Dennis Hastert’s Obama problem, California burning, Commentary old and new.




Dennis Hastert

, the wrestling coach who went to the House and got drafted into a Potemkin Speakership by

Tom DeLay

, would like nothing more than to quit Congress and make big bucks as a lobbyist. Unfortunately,

Barack Obama

stands in his way. Hastert, who knew he was in over his head as a backbench Congressman, never wanted to be Speaker. He was forced to take the top job by DeLay in the late ’90s. DeLay wanted to run the House but knew he was too unappealing to be the face of the Republican majority. So he tapped a loyal lieutenant, Hastert, as his frontman.

Now DeLay is gone–potentially to jail. And Hastert is synonymous with failure, having mismanaged the concession so badly his party has little chance of retaking control of the House for as long as memories of the DeLay/Hastert days linger. In fact, a flurry of recent resignations by senior Republicans threaten to set the GOP even further back in 2008. So Hastert’s not seeking a new term. And he would like to quit before this one ends–a move that would speed up the process of attracting lucrative lobbying contracts. But that’s where his Obama problem comes in. If Hastert quits now, Illinois would likely hold a special election to fill his seat February 5. That’s the day Obama will be competing in Illinois’s presidential primary. A big Democratic turnout for Obama in Hastert’s district could flip the seat out of GOP hands. So a frustrated Hastert must go through the motions of serving the people for a few more months.   JOHN NICHOLS


: With wildfires engulfing Southern California, Senator

Barbara Boxer

notes, “Right now, we are down 50 percent in terms of our National Guard equipment, because they’re all in Iraq.” Lt. Gov.

John Garamendi

echoes her plea: “What we really need are those firefighters, we need the equipment. We need, frankly, we need our troops back from Iraq.”


: Dear

John Podhoretz

, Congratulations on being named editor in chief of Commentary, the distinguished magazine that for many years was subsidized by the American Jewish Committee, which had the good sense to allow it complete editorial independence. You don’t need us to tell you that over the past three or four decades The Nation and Commentary, which has become one of the leading voices of neoconservatism, have had their differences.

We write today not to rehearse our differences but to remind you of Commentary past. When your father took over the magazine in 1960 and published writers like

Paul Goodman

on “The Ineffectuality of Some Intelligent People,”

Ted Solotaroff

on “The Graduate Student: A Profile,”

Irving Howe

on The New Yorker‘s refusal to run letters to the editor (too grubby),

James Baldwin

on race,

Edgar Friedenberg

on education,

Dwight Macdonald


Philip Roth

on whatever; when Commentary ran a symposium on issues of war and peace and went beyond its stereotypical stable to include participants like

C.P. Snow

and peace activist

H. Stuart Hughes

(along with standbys like

Sidney Hook

), it was one of the most stimulating magazines in the country.

You don’t need The Nation to tell you where to go for inspiration, but you could do worse than reread the Commentary of the young

Norman Podhoretz


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