The just-the-facts tone of this piece by Daniel Silliman — “Dennis Hastert, Once an Evangelical Republican Leader, Settles Sex-Abuse Suit” — is devastating:
Hastert rose to Republican leadership in the US House in the 1990s, with a perfect rating from the Christian Coalition, National Right to Life Committee, and the National Rifle Association.
He was elevated to House Speaker in 1998, when the GOP was looking for someone with solid morals to lead the party in opposition to President Bill Clinton, who was facing impeachment for lying under oath about having sex with a White House intern.
The Republican’s first leader, Newt Gingrich, stepped down and later admitted that at the time he was having sex with one of his congressional aides. Gingrich was replaced by Robert L. Livingston, who was then forced to withdraw amid revelations that he had had multiple extramarital affairs.
Facing allegations of party-wide hypocrisy, Republicans picked the staunch evangelical from Illinois to be Speaker of the House. Hastert was seen as someone with the moral authority and personal integrity to lead. He kept that position—second in line from the president—until 2007, making him the longest-serving Republican speaker in US history.
Hastert was lauded as Wheaton’s most influential alumnus, and the school named a center for economics, government, and public policy after him. The Hastert Center sought to promote the “redeeming effects of the Christian worldview on the practice of business, government and politics.”
Hastert’s reputation changed, however, in 2014, when the FBI questioned him about suspicious bank withdrawals. Hastert had taken $50,000 out of his accounts in increments of $10,000 but then learned that the bank was required to report withdraws of $10,000 or more. He then started withdrawing cash in increments of less than $10,000 every six weeks for more than two years.
When questioned, Hastert lied to federal agents. He pleaded guilty to a banking charge and was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2016.
Wheaton removed Hastert’s name from its building, and the former House speaker resigned from the advisory board. Since then, he has attempted to stay out of the public eye.
During the criminal case, former student athletes recalled how he would pull up a recliner to watch them while they showered, and Hastert admitted to some allegations of sexual abuse. He could not be prosecuted, however, because of the statute of limitations.
Or, rather, it ought to be devastating. But as with everything else involving Hastert, this will all be dismissed, erased, and tossed down the memory hole.
If Hastert is ever mentioned or remembered at all in the “evangelical Republican” circles where he was once heralded as a model leader, he will be portrayed as an aberration, a lone “bad apple” and an isolated, individual case that represents nothing and does not need to be explored or examined any further because there’s nothing it has to teach us about the character or culture of the people and institutions who once exalted and empowered him.
The man who was — just over a decade ago — lauded as an exemplar of the “redeeming effects of the Christian worldview” is now shrugged away as someone whose life was somehow wholly unaffected by and unrelated that same “Christian worldview.” No reflection, no hesitation, no concern that maybe perhaps it suggests something about a culture that this is the kind of man it elevates, or that maybe perhaps the years of policies championed by that man and that culture might, like the man himself, be anything other than 100-percent unquestionably “redeeming” in their effects.
Dennis Hastert is simply recategorized as an exception and added to the very long and ever-expanding list of isolated aberrations with no need to ponder how this culture and “worldview” seems to produce mainly exceptions and aberrations.