Martin Longman has a few choice words for beltway insiders, Wanker of the Day: Bill Press. Press wrote an apologia for Dennis Hastert. Defying all laws of nature except apparently what happens in Washington, Press thinks, “Hastert was charged with federal crimes only because he’s a high-profile politician.” Outside the upper class Washington bubble, everyone knows that it is exactly the rich and powerful who do not get charged with crimes. But in the mind of Bill Press, it’s the people who get invited to Sally Quinn’s parties who are the real oppressed of this country.
But I think that Longman is largely wrong in his critique of Bill Press. His main message is that because the federal government couldn’t prosecute Hastert for his real crimes, they were right to prosecute him for trumped up procedural crimes. I have little sympathy for Hastert, but it is almost never men like him who are treated to this kind of thing. In this case, it certainly seems that some small amount of justice is being done. But in most cases, an injustice is done. And I don’t think that we can argue in favor of such official behavior just because in some cases it is laudatory. In the long run, cases like Hastert’s will be used as a justification for the continued use of such tactics.
There is a little delicious irony in Dennis Hastert getting caught in a web of his own creation. It seems to be something that conservatives are especially prone to. They love harsh and unjust laws for the “evildoers” — laws that can trap the conservatives themselves because their previous lack of imagination and empathy. But certainly the response to this is not, “I’m glad we had this unjust law so that we could bring down Dennis Hastert!” It should be that the law itself is bad and that it needs fixing. If it requires an injustice to Hastert for people like Bill Press to realize that, fine.
Sadly, that does not seem to be the takeaway for Press. It wouldn’t have taken much to change his article to call foul on what’s happening to Hastert in the context of a criminal justice system that is all about power and none about justice. We really do have a sick system. The best advice to politicians who misbehave is to simply come clean. If you have enough money, you can win almost any case in our courts. That’s the way the system is set up! It’s rare that anyone in Washington is convicted of a real crime. Instead, it is obstruction of justice and lying to authorities. The only reason our system works at all is because the vast majority of people do not have the money to fight — especially when you can’t get a jaywalking ticket without a dozen other “crimes” added on.
It’s sad that Bill Press doesn’t seem to understand this. In fact, he compared Hastert favorably to Wall Street executives. I wonder if Bill Press would make the same case for some junkie-dealer who gets a decade in prison — a common occurrence. But there is a real issue here that Martin Longman doesn’t engage with at all. I really don’t care about justice for Dennis Hastert. I care for the millions of others who get caught in our justice system who are abused with these kinds of laws.