The Denny Hastert Predicament

In the sports business, skill and judgment are still what counts when it comes to winning and turning a profit. That stands in contrast to politics and government, where you can succeed just by being a competent, non-threatening person.

This fact leads to what can be called the “Denny Hastert predicament.” It’s the conscious or unconscious setting aside of principle on the part of the elected class due to personal relationships. It often manifests as an acceptance of a mediocre status quo because a venerable individual is in charge. Public policy goals are forgotten or ignored in order to avoid making waves or ruffling feathers.

Unfortunately, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has yet to demonstrate effective leadership on some very important issues. Sure, many are proud of him here in his home state. But few look to him for solutions. Tip O’Neill and Newt Gingrich, by contrast, understood the power of their bully pulpit.

Yes, Hastert’s held onto the majority. But retaining control is now more a matter of redistricting than elections. As columnist George Will observed, voters used to choose their representatives, now representatives choose their voters.

During Speaker Hastert’s tenure we’ve witnessed Republican-led record breaking domestic discretionary spending and an obscene and unnecessary return to deficit spending. Don’t fall for the wartime/homeland security excuse. Those records are being set without security or defense spending added in.

Just as significant, there has been a lack of progress towards entitlement program or tax reform. This can be measured both by what bills haven’t passed and how there hasn’t been a push to increase the public understanding of – and support for – needed reforms.

Some would say we don’t have the numbers to pass reform legislation. This argument would have us believe that Senator Zell Miller of Georgia is the only Democrat Member of Congress with good sense. I don’t buy it. A Republican Speaker’s job is to move the center to the right, not the right to the center.

Of course there is the need for legislative compromise. I just disagree with where our starting point should be. I’ve asked this question before: guess what happens when you get compromise between big spenders and really big spenders? If we’re ever to make progress in this area, we’re going to have to outline a plan calling for substantially reduced spending levels.

The win-loss record and profit margin for a sports team isn’t always critical during the rebuilding years. That said, the goal eventually is to see brisk ticket sales and championship seasons.

Last week Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak quoted Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina after the U.S. House passed a pork-loaded highway bill by a veto-proof margin of 357 to 65.

“What infuriates her,” Novak wrote, “is the money provided by this bill does not have a thing to do with highways.”

Novak called Myrick “a conservative rising star.” It might be time for her or someone with her level of understanding to rise to the Speakership.

For those who complain about this column being used to criticize Republicans, the reason is simple: Democrats are inconsequential. We should be kicking their party mascot all over the political field.

So why aren’t we?

We’re right on the issues, the facts are on our side, and we’ve got all the good ideas.

What in the world is the problem?

You can’t blame sportswriters or fans for the team losing the game. The writers call it as they see it and there are no Bartman foul balls in politics.

Others may be upset that this space isn’t devoted entirely to offering constructive recommendations. First, a closer reading will reveal plenty of good suggestions. Second, you can either hit a big league curve ball or you can’t. Those who want me to tell them how to do the job they’re getting paid to do should consider another career.

Here’s some specific advice: put the ball in play or get off the field.