Not only has Speaker Denny Hastert thoroughly mishandled the Mark Foley incident, he has been an ineffective leader, one who has failed to communicate broad policy and philosophical goals for the House GOP. Thanks to Hastert, there has been no guiding Republican message emanating from the House -- a huge missed opportunity, to say the least.
I'll deal first with the Washington scandal du jour. In 2002, Foley thanked that year's class of congressional pages with a bizarre, tearful speech that smacked of a guilty conscience and hypocritical emotions. According to the ABC Blotter, "Some of the very same pages in the chamber that day would months later receive Foley's sexually explicit messages." Clearly, Foley has acute problems.
But Republican staff warned congressional pages five years ago to watch out for Foley, now the former representative from Florida. Yet Hastert took no action.
Last year, sick e-mails from Foley were passed on to the speaker's staff. But again, no action was taken.
This past spring, more Foley complaints were raised with three GOP leaders -- including Hastert. Yet the speaker took no action.
The red flags were there, and in not acting decisively, Hastert failed his party. But he also short-changed a key Republican constituency -- the GOP's vital evangelical Christian base, which rightly trumpets the need for clear, pro-family moral and ethical standards in politics in order to stop the secular trend of moral relativism and the demoralizing rejection of faith.
The time has come for a change in the GOP caucus. But in the wake of the Foley incident, such a change may well occur as the GOP assembles a minority caucus next January.
And Republicans have Denny Hastert to thank for that -- and not only because he couldn't cut a messy scandal off at the pass. I would describe Hastert's leadership of the House in general as negligent.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was message-driven. So was former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. But since their departures, the House leadership has failed to deliver a clear and cohesive Republican message on low tax rates, budget restraint, earmark reform, private savings accounts for Social Security and healthcare, and firm oversight of the Iraq war and the Katrina cleanup.
Rather than a winning message of economic growth, a strong defense and optimism for the future, Hastert has given us silence. And where's his response to the House Democrats, who take every opportunity to speak up?