I'm sure it will come as no surprise to most of you when I tell you that the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, one Dennis Hastert (R-IL), is crazier than a syphilitic squirrel.
I don't come to this conclusion lightly. Certain august persons, among them major political figures such as the man "two heartbeats from the presidency", are deserving of respect, no matter their political affiliation. And if a cheap ad-hominem attack like "crazier than a syphilitic squirrel" is to be employed, it must be rigorously fact-checked beforehand, so as to avoid any potentially slanderous yet unintentional missteps. And since In These Times has no…shall we say, evidence that the Speaker is involved in the trafficking of underaged Eastern European prostitutes to work in the deadly tomato mines of the Heinz ketchup company, we've decided to hold off.
But Dennis Hastert himself is not one to let the truth get in the way of a good smear. In an interview with Chris Wallace on the August 29 edition of Fox News Sunday, he proves it:
HASTERT: [talking about 527 groups, McCain-Feingold and campaign finance reform] Here in this campaign, quote, unquote, "reform," you take party power away from the party, you take the philosophical ideas away from the party, and give them to these independent groups.
You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where ??? if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from. And I…
WALLACE: Excuse me?
HASTERT: Well, that's what he's been for a number years ??? George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there.
WALLACE: You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?
HASTERT: I'm saying I don't know where groups ??? could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know. The fact is we don't know where this money comes from.
Now first of all, as Jack Shafer points out, we do know where Soros gets his money: according to this Telegraph piece, he's made billions through his Quantum Fund hedge fund, including ??1 billion over the course of a few days in 1992.
Second of all, at no point in the interview, or in the subsequent dust-up, does Hastert offer any evidence whatsoever for the allegation. His argument, true to a point, is that he himself never said that drug cartels were behind Soros; that was his interviewer, Chris Wallace. Of course, after Wallace asks whether Hastert meant to say "drug cartels", the Speaker goes out of his way to plead ignorance, instead of immediately and flatly denying that was what he meant. One can also check with Hastert's August 23rd appearance on WNYC-FM's The Brian Lehrer Show:
Dennis Hastert: Well, you find out that if you look into the record, I was against the Campaign Finance Reform Act because that's what I felt that would happen, that you would push into guys like George Soros, who's dumping in $16 or $20 million. We don't know where that money comes from. We don't know where it comes from, from the left, and you don't know where it comes in the right. You know, Soros' money, some of that is coming from overseas. It could be drug money. We don't know where it comes from.
Hastert's second disingenuous argument is that he was referring not to the source of Soros' money, but to its destination. In a letter to Soros on September 1st, Hastert claims that the "drug groups" to which he referred were in fact groups Soros funds, such as "The Drug Policy Foundation, The Open Society, The Lendesmith Center, the Andean Council of Coca Leaf Producers, and several ballot initiatives across the country to decriminalize illegal drug use." Of course, this is also contradicted by the transcript, in a few places, such as when Hastert says, "I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where -- if it comes from overseas or from drug groups…" Or how about when he says, "The fact is we don't know where this money comes from."
What's so upsetting about all of this is that, as the Speaker of the House, one would expect Dennis Hastert to hold himself, and be held, to a higher standard of discourse. What's ok for a back-bench first-term legislator (or Zell Miller) is not, and shouldn't be, ok for one of the nation's most important elected officials. Then again, perhaps he was just following the lead of Vice President Richard "Expletive Deleted" Cheney.