Friday, October 20, 2006

HASTERT AGAIN Many thanks to Andrew Sullivan for his Monday link to my post about the Hastert-Palmer relationship.

Of course, my prediction about Scott Palmer's job security has proven delusive: He remains the Speaker's chief of staff almost two weeks after a pair of congressional officials went on the record claiming he'd been warned about Foley.

Still, it's clearer than ever that Hastert won't be Speaker for much longer: The White House decided that the political cost of ousting Hastert before the election was higher than retaining him, but come November 8, the picture will be different.

And even so, the decision to sit pat seems to have been a mistake.

Voters may not mention the Foley mess at the top of their list of grievances, but that doesn't mean its impact has been less than pervasive.

As a reader over at Josh Marshall's site observed:

Here's the thing about the Foley scandal: it gives people space to change their minds about things. Think about when you've admitted a mistake or accepted someone's knockdown argument on a topic you believe in strongly. Sure, you look at the facts and exercise your capacity for reason. But there is an emotional component too, and it's a lot easier to change your mind when the other person, or in this case the general public mood, makes it OK for you to shift your perspective.

That's what Foley has done--provided an emotional space within which people can reevaluate their views without having to question themselves or their previous beliefs too deeply. I believe there has been a growing sense in the country that things are going badly, very badly, on all sorts of fronts. Foley, frankly, doesn't have much to do with that. But now it's OK to step up and say, "Hell with it, I'm tired of this crap." And change your vote.
As reputedly "safe" Republican districts have migrated into the "toss-up" category over the past few weeks, it seems likely that the Foley scandal--and the GOP's failure to take steps to diffuse it--has had a psychic impact. At least with a small percentage of voters.

We won't know for sure for a couple more weeks. But if Republicans wake up on November 8 with 20+ seats in the "loss" column, you can bet that we'll hear a lot of second-guessing about the party leadership's unwillingness to hold Hastert accountable.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.