Dennis Hastert, the longest serving Speaker of the House in U.S. history, was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Wednesday for paying hush money to cover his sexual abuse of children.
His lawyers attempted to get away with only parole, or less than 6 months in prison, and referred to the crime as a “truly tragic situation” and, with a straight face, described the rape as Hastert’s “misconduct.”
Stacks of letters were read in support of Hastert’s excellent moral character, which were somehow considered, and which the authors stood behind, even after it was established that he sexually abused the students in his care as a high school coach.
Senate majority leader Tom DeLay described him as “…a good man who loves the Lord, and he gets his integrity and values from Him.” It’s unclear how he thinks sexual child abuse is supposed to reflect Christian integrity and values.
Ironically, Hastert himself once supported a bill to allow courts to sentence repeat offenders in child molestation cases to life in prison. Unfortunately, he won’t be enjoying the fruits of his labor.
While a long sentence doesn’t serve much of a direct purpose with a 74 year-old offender, this embarrassingly short sentence has a lot of symbolic importance. It shows, once again, that there are two (or more) different standards in the American justice system. Where getting caught with a joint in your pocket can get you five years of forced labor in the private prison system if you have the wrong skin color, a congressman can commit violent sexual offences and walk away with a slap on the wrist because of his apparent moral fortitude, connections, and deep pockets.