In response to the scandal currently embroiling former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastart, Ana Marie Cox of the Daily Beast asks, “How can Hastert’s reputation even be worth $3.5 million?”
Hastert is a former member of Congress known to have profited off of a shady land deal and he’s a registered lobbyist—these are already the two professions that Americans regard as the most disreputable careers available. They are literally last (lobbyist) and second-to-last (congressman) on Gallup’s list of what jobs Americans regard as “honest” and “ethical.” What would one have to do to be thought even less of?
Given the ickiness of what has been reported, it might not be good to think about that question too hard, so let’s turn that question on its head: What kind of reputation could be worth spending $3.5 million to protect?
To consider $3.5 million a reasonable sum to spend on protecting one’s reputation, presumably it has to be worth a lot more than that. And, indeed, in the context of the lobbying world, $3.5 million just isn’t that much money. Especially considering that Hastert was apparently making pay-offs over time. Special interest groups spent almost 1000 times that—$3.2 billion—in 2015 alone. If Hastert viewed protecting his reputation as a kind of investment in future earnings, $3.5 million is on the scale of buying an alarm system for your home, not buying a whole other house.
And, it’s important to remember, what Hastert was covering up with that hush money was not a “reputation” as an average citizen might conceive of it: something akin to honor or trustworthiness or fidelity. A lobbyist’s reputation, after all, actually hinges on his or her established lack of principles.
As Cox notes, “A lobbying client for someone who is a former member of Congress is paying a premium for that person’s willingness to engage in barely-legal favor-trading. A lobbyist’s prices go up the more corrupt he is. Who wants to hire an honest one?” Well, no one at the Daily Beast; Cox is the former namesake editor of the Gawker-owned Website Wonkette, which routinely trashed small government conservatives in the mid-naughts. Her editor at the Daily Beast is former Giuliani speechwriter John Avlon, who has made a career of routinely smearing small government conservatives and libertarian Tea Party members as “Wingnuts.”
As John Fund writes at NRO today in response to the Hastart scandal:
All of this self-dealing is a major reason that Americans hold Congress in such low esteem today. It helps explain why GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is bringing audiences to their feet when she cites a recent Rasmussen Reports poll: It’s sad, she says that ’82 percent of the American people now believe that we have a professional political class that is more focused on preserving its power and privilege than it is on doing the people’s work.
That’s certainly true in the offices of the Daily Beast, where no one is interested in shrinking the power or corruption of an out of control federal government.