Perverted, right-wing hypocrites: Dennis Hastert's alleged sexual abuse reminds us to check the closets of those who demonize consensual sex

Hastert allegations are a lesson in how common conservative hypocrisy is and why it must be exposed

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 14, 2016 3:35PM (EDT)

Dennis Hastert   (Reuters/Frank Polich)
Dennis Hastert (Reuters/Frank Polich)

So much of the politics of 2016 is rehashing the '90s, so perhaps it's no surprise that the nation got an ugly reminder, with Dennis Hastert being in the news again, of one of the most iconic incidents of the era, the Great Hypocrite Purge of 1998.

For those who are fuzzy on the details of that embarrassing period of American history, Hastert only rose to prominence as the Speaker of the House because of the long-standing problem of conservative moralizers invariably having skeletons in their own closet. It was the height of Republican hysteria over the fact that Bill Clinton just kept being president despite their belief that Democrats are always illegitimate. Desperate to find some pretext to impeach the man who thought he got to be president just because he won the election, Republicans subjected Clinton to endless open-ended investigations for years on end, finally lucking out and trapping him into evading admission of an affair he had with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

Even though it was thin gruel, Republicans were so confident that the nation would be so appalled to hear about this new "oral sex" thing they seemed to think Clinton invented that they went ahead and impeached him anyway. Which, if you will recall, did not work out well for them. Clinton survived the impeachment, but many Republicans did not.

One reason, of course, is the Great Hypocrite Purge, where Republicans learned that turnabout is fair play and if they were going to expose the president this way, they better understand their own adulteries were to become the public's business.

Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the house, was outed as a serial adulterer who felt no need to curtail his activities just because he was impeaching the president for the same.  He resigned and Bob Livingston was flagged to become the next speaker, which lasted a hot minute until his own adultery was exposed and he, too, resigned. Dennis Hastert then was elevated to the speaker position in no small part because he was seen as a true blue conservative who lived the "family values" lifestyle he preached.

But of course that wasn't true — is it ever? — and Hastert has been accused of molesting four high school boys in his time as a wrestling coach. He's already plead guilty for financial funny business to cover up a whopping $3.5 million paid in what appears to be hush money to keep his history quiet.

If all this sounds familiar, it's because everything old is new again, from the endless politicized fishing expeditions aimed at people named Clinton to Republicans leaking congressional leadership due to their own inability to not act like right wing crazies to conservatives chasing all sorts of bizarre theories to justify their irrational belief that the Democratic president doesn't really count.

And, of course, we're relearning a lesson that it seems the public needs to relearn every few years or so: If you see someone standing on a soapbox lecturing the rest of us about how we're all vile perverts who need to get right with Jesus, odds are they're doing the same thing....or worse.

It's bad enough when you're dealing with the garden variety hypocrites, the people who want to moralize and control behavior that is really none of their business, such as masturbation, homosexuality, abortion and birth control, or adultery. But, as the Hastert situation shows, it's often worse than that, with the hypocrites pointing the moralizing finger at people who are doing nothing wrong, while engaging in harmful and sometimes even criminal behavior.

Take, for instance, the situation in Tennessee right now with the state house's former majority whip, Jeremy Durham. Durham is a big proponent of a bill that would bar trans students at public schools and universities from using the bathroom aligned with their gender, instead forcing them to use the opposite sex's bathroom. Bill like this are routinely justified using phony concerns about women's safety, with conservatives claiming (with absolutely no evidence) that men dress as women so they can lurk in bathrooms and harass or even rape women.

But while conservatives are whipping themselves into a frenzy over non-existent baddies, it appears that Durham may be a real life baddie himself. Multiple women have text messages from his phone number that are harassing (often asking for pictures) and the situation has gotten so bad that the state attorney general and congressional leadership have literally quarantined Durham, putting strict limits on his movements so that he can't get himself alone with young women while at work.

The whole incident points to another reason reason that moralizing hypocrites are bad, beyond just the fact that they invariably target people, from LGBT folks to women who have sex without procreation, who aren't actually doing anything harmful. Moralizing hypocrites also distort the public understanding of actual sex crimes, making it harder to identify the causes and hold offenders accountable for their harmful behavior.

As the Chicago Tribune reports, Hastert spent his decades in public office holding himself out as some kind of champion of children against the evil molesters, pushing in particular for higher sentences for child molesters. The revelation that he allegedly molested so many boys himself now taints that work. It's hard enough for people who fight on behalf of victims of sexual assault to get a fair hearing without a bunch of sleazy hypocrites getting involved and sowing suspicion about the real life value of this work.

Same story with Durham's situation. All this conservative chatter about rape prevention is clearly a feint. They don't care about stopping rape and harassment so much as using the idea of sexual abuse as a weapon to demonize trans people, and having such a prominent person act like he's a warrior against sexual abuse during the day while spending his evenings bugging congressional staffers for pictures at night just confirms it.


The exposure of Hastert's and Durham's hypocrisy helps, though. It reminds the public how much conservative moralizing and hysteria over consensual sexual behavior is a cover-up for their real agenda, which is enforcing rigid gender roles and straight male dominance. It's ugly and unpleasant to out hypocrites at times, but the alternative, of letting them continue to harm while demonizing innocent people, is a much uglier alternative.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bob Livingston Conservative Hypocrisy Dennis Hastert Jeremy Dunham Newt Gingrich