Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House, has been indicted for trying to cover up cash withdrawals from the Feds, allegedly to pay blackmail for misconduct with a male over 30 years ago.
Before he became a politician, Dennis Hastert worked for 17 years as a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School. He was, by every measure, a successful wrestling coach: His teams were competitive, winning the State Championship in 1976. He was Illinois Coach of the Year. His players went on to wrestle in college. He even wrote a book remembering those days in Yorkville as a wrestling coach, Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics.
It is during that time that Hastert is alleged to have committed the misconduct- sexual abuse of a boy, according to news reports – that would, years later, be the reason for blackmail payments and those illegal cash withdrawals.
When an Illinois politician is indicted, we can usually see it coming. We nod our heads in chagrin and resignation– yep, yep, he had it coming, we say. But there has never been a whiff of sexual scandal attached to Dennis Hastert; the breaking news was a shock to many– albeit, not to Hastert or his victim(s).
As a nation, we are fascinated and titillated with the sexual escapades of politicians. Former Congressman Aaron Schock (another Illinois politician who resigned in the wake of a scandal) posed shirtless for a magazine cover and the media went gaga. Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, Newt Gingrich, Mark Foley (whose scandal precipitated Hastert’s rise to Speaker of the House), Mark Sanford, Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner….the list goes on and on. We seem to have the belief that if a man commits an extramarital affair, he can’t be trusted to govern.
But is that true? Must we expect perfection from our politicians; something we don’t ask of ourselves? Does one mistake mean that the legacy of good public service must be stricken from the record, and only the scandal remain as an epitaph?
When it involves a minor, or the abuse of authority, the answer has to be a resounding yes.
We are, all of us, imperfect. We make mistakes- sometimes, egregious ones- but we should all be allowed to the opportunity for redemption. If we continue to insist that our leaders be perfect, we will soon have only leaders who are capable of either covering their misdeeds or are robotic, manufactured candidates. We must take hold of our puritanical beliefs about sex and let. them. go.
When every transgression becomes a scandal, then the real scandals lose their ability to truly shock us. We are inured and shrug, as if to say, it’s just another politician (celebrity, et cetera) being bad. And we move to the next, and the lessons are never learned.
But the sexual abuse of a minor, by a teacher who, after the fact, ran for office and was third in line for President? That, that we need to talk about. We need to talk about how a student (we assume) could be abused. We need to talk about why that student never came forward; never pressed charges.
As for Hastert? If he’s guilty- and he does deserve to considered innocent until proven otherwise- then he should be honest about how he was able to abuse the minor and then hide his behavior. If guilty, the best we can do now is learn from his abusive ways and hopefully, in the process, protect future children from similar abuse.