Yesterday, on The Washington Times' editorial page, of which I am editorial editor, the lead editorial called for House Speaker Denny Hastert to resign his speakership immediately. Several loyal Republicans and conservatives around the country strongly disagreed with that judgment and thought we were caving to Democratic Party and liberal media pressure and dirty tricks.
I couldn't disagree with my fellow conservatives and Republicans more. I have been an active and loyal Republican for more than 40 years (starting as a youth coordinator for Barry Goldwater in 1964, campaigning for Ronald Reagan for governor and president, serving in the Reagan White House for six years, and as Newt Gingrich's press secretary from 1990 to 1997, among other Republican campaigns and jobs.)
I believe in and have regularly fought the partisan fight to the bitter end -- except when the position is ethically indefensible.
In this case, defending Denny Hastert's decisions is ethically wrong, would undermine our party's commitment to the defense of traditional moral values and is politically stupid in the bargain.
I have known Denny for almost two decades. He is an exceedingly decent man and a hard worker for conservative Republican values and politics. But we cannot deny the fact that he had a sustained lapse of good judgment. The fact that he reportedly has been quite ill for some time may be an explanation -- but not an excuse.
Forget the later hideous text messages. When the speaker was told that Mark Foley had sent that first e-mail -- the "overly friendly" one we all saw last Friday -- he had to be either obtuse or on notice of the problem. Any father of a young man who saw such an e-mail sent to his son would rightly be disposed to immediately punch out Mr. Foley and warn him to keep away from his son, and then he would call the police. It was common knowledge that Mr. Foley was gay. If he had been straight and asked for a 16-year-old girl's photo, any sensible person would have concluded the same thing.
But the fact that, according to my best sources in the House Republicans, Mr. Hastert never informed any Democrats of the matter (even on the page oversight board), unambiguously suggests that he knew what was up. Thus began the cover-up. Of course he knew what the Democrats would do with the information. But not only is this not a Democratic Party dirty trick (the facts are real, not made up), but Mr. Hastert had a moral duty to do all in his power to make sure there would not be more victims of Mr. Foley's alleged sexual predation -- or clear potential for such.
The fact that Democrats might also cover up such facts is just another reason why I am a Republican. Republicans do stand for sound moral values.
And if it is unfair that Democratic voters often give their politicians a pass on such matters (e.g. former Massachusettes Democratic congressman Gerry Studds got re-elected by his liberal voters after a similar incident was made public), well, that is just the price we have to pay in this wicked world for holding fast to our values and principles. If virtue were profitable, the whole world would be virtuous.
How in the world will Republicans be able to champion our values in the future if we weasel and excuse the cover-up of such conduct in one of our own? We have more to protect than the next election, we have our historic reputation among more than half the country for our principles.
It has been excruciating watching Republicans on television in the last few days grimly and ineffectively trying to defend Mr. Hastert. Better to take a stand on principle and elect a new speaker for the last three months (the retiring Henry Hyde, a man of principle who is held in esteem on both sides of the aisle, would be ideal). We may or may not take a political hit, but better to go to the electorate with our heads held high for doing the right thing than to slink around like a pack of phonies.
But this may end up being embarrassing for the Democrats, too. It is implausible that ABC got hold of this information on their own and just happened to broadcast it on the last day of the congressional session.
While I don't have any proof, I will be amazed if Democratic operatives and at least a few Democratic congressmen didn't know about this and fed it to the media through various obscure blogs and to ABC. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) (just like the National Republican Congressional Committee) is in the business of disseminating negative information before elections, among other things.
It will be interesting to see what the FBI finds in the DCCC e-mail and files. It may well turn out that the Democrats also knew about Mr. Foley and the pages and held it back from the FBI for crass partisan purposes.
But whatever the Democrats did or didn't do, we Republicans can only be responsible for our own conduct and conscience.
Although the hour is late, it is never too late to do the right thing. At this point, there is nothing left worth defending but our honor. And who knows, as an added bonus, it might also be the politically smart thing to do. But either way, it is the right thing.