FOX News Sunday had the following exchange:
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now is the chairman of the†Republican Convention (search). His day job is speaker of the house, Congressman Dennis Hastert. And the chairman of the platform committee, who's better known as the Senate majority leader, Senator Bill Frist.
HASTERT: ... I remember when I was a kid watching my first convention in 1992, when both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party laid out their platform, laid out their philosophy, and that's what they followed. Here in this campaign, quote, unquote, "reform," you take party power away from the party, you take the philosophical ideas away from the party, and give them to these independent groups.
You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where ó if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from. And I...
WALLACE: Excuse me?
HASTERT: Well, that's what he's been for a number years ó George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there.
WALLACE: You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?
HASTERT: I'm saying I don't know where groups ó could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know. The fact is we don't know where this money comes from.
Before, transparency ó and what we're talking about in transparency in election reform is you know where the money comes from. You get a $25 check or a $2,500 check or $25,000 check, put it up on the Internet. You know where it comes from, and there it is.
Talk about a vicious smear. One might was well say ďI donít know whether Dennis Hastert is a pedophile and I donít know whether there are videos of him having sex with young boys that have been destroyed. Maybe itís true, maybe itís not. IĎm just saying that I donít know.Ē
Would that be fair? Of course not. Itís not even vaguely appropriate ó so what did Hastert say it? There has been a lot of criticism on the net of Hastertís comments, but I think people may be missing his point because they cut out the context:
I remember when I was a kid watching my first convention in 1992, when both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party laid out their platform, laid out their philosophy, and that's what they followed. Here in this campaign, quote, unquote, "reform," you take party power away from the party, you take the philosophical ideas away from the party, and give them to these independent groups.
You see, Hastert doesnít like the fact that independent groups have such influence on politics today. He has to smear Soros because he has to make it look as though people like him and groups like MoveOn.org are shady, if not criminal. He wants to concentrate political power in the hands of political parties and deny independent groups basic free speech rights ó a goal that President Bush has said is on his agenda.
It will be easier to convince the American public that the power of speech and persuasion should be restricted to political parties if they are convinced ahead of time that there is something unsavory, suspicious, unpatriotic, or criminal about the independent groups paying for their own ads. This isnít a randomly stupid comment, itís a early and calculated salvo designed to begin framing the debate over whether free speech will continue to exist in America. I donít know how far it will go in the next couple of months, but if George W. Bush wins reelection you can be sure that similar comments will continue.