DENNIS HASTERT SHOULD RESIGN as speaker of the House of Representatives. Not necessarily because he failed to act quickly when shown evidence suggesting that Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) was abusing his power with teenagers — not all the details are known, though the ones that are don't look good. No, the Illinois Republican should resign because he's an unimaginative politician and an uninspired legislator. Unfortunately, these days that just makes him a typical congressional Republican.
At his job-preserving news conference Thursday, Hastert said, "The buck stops here," then proceeded to blame some of this Republican scandal on the Democratic Party. "I haven't done anything wrong, obviously," he added.
That sound you hear is Harry Truman rolling over in his grave. Still, it was an improvement over the speaker's contention Monday that critiquing his oversight amounted to nothing more than "woulda, coulda, shoulda." To repeat: Even disregarding the well-documented rumors of Foley's unhealthy obsession with young interns dating to at least 1995, and accepting Hastert's insistence that his office first heard about Foley's misbehavior last fall, the speaker had more than enough information to launch an investigation. Instead, he was more interested in protecting his party's fortunes than the safety of minors.
Is that reason enough for Hastert to resign? Perhaps. But let's give Hastert the benefit of the doubt, on the principle that it's unfair to judge a man for a single mistake. Looking at his record only makes the case for his resignation stronger.
Start with his laugh-out-loud assertion Thursday that the Republican Party has been "holding the line on spending." From 1999, when Hastert was elected speaker, to 2005, non-defense discretionary spending increased 34%, according to the Heritage Foundation. Pork-barrel line items have grown exponentially on Hastert's watch, and ballyhooed attempts at reform have largely fizzled. Instead of trying to prevent his colleagues from raiding the public purse, Hastert has saved his scorn for judges who authorize the FBI to search the offices of fellow lawmakers charged with crimes.
The same Republican Party that swept into a House majority 12 years ago amid fire-breathing promises to clean house and inject new blood is now led by a 19-year veteran whose oldest son is a lobbyist.
On policy, Hastert's no better. He's presided over the House's becoming a fever swamp of immigration rhetoric that even some Bush administration officials see as xenophobic and damaging. He has suggested that New Orleans might be better off "bulldozed." And he has allowed the House to become a rubber stamp for the Bush administration's expansion of executive-branch power.
If he has a compelling vision for the nation, or frankly any vision at all, it has escaped our attention. The 109th Congress can't do any more harm, thankfully. But Hastert shouldn't head the 110th.