• Susan Walsh/AP Photos
  • Dennis Hastert, pictured in 2007

Writing about Dennis Hastert, the former Illinois congressman who’s been indicted for lying to the feds about withdrawing large sums of money, allegedly to pay off a man he sexually abused years ago while a Yorkville teacher and wrestling coach, the Sun-Times‘s Carol Marin passed along a question posed by a woman in Arizona to her brother in Chicago:

“Is there anybody in your state who isn’t guilty of something?”

The answer is no. Guilt is as widely distributed in Illinois as it is in any other of the world’s warrens of humanity. If Illinois is exceptional it’s in its unwillingness to pretend otherwise and success in keeping sins of omission to a minimum. When a public dignitary in our fine state walks around feeling guilty, it’s not hard to put your finger on why.

“Let’s face it,” wrote Marin, “this is yet another tragedy for Illinois.” She then recited the usual list of all-stars—Walker, Kerner, Ryan, Blagojevich—young comers Jesse and Sandi Jackson, sensational phenom Aaron Schock, and former CPS head Barbara Byrd-Bennett, invited to the bigs for a cup of coffee.

John Kass in the Tribune was more emphatic: “Dennis Hastert,” he declared, “is a Republican boss of the infamous Illinois Combine that has run this politically corrupt state.”

I’m sorry. This isn’t on Illinois. Maybe it’s on 14th Congressional District voters who sent him to Washington, or on House members who elected him speaker. Maybe it’s on the Republican Party, for championing a pinched and bogus code of human sexual conduct that turns its own members into sneaks and hypocrites. But it’s not on Illinois. Political corruption is one thing. Hastert’s misery is another.

“He certainly must have known it would end this way,’ wrote Kass: “Disgrace upon his family name; shame for himself if he’s still capable of feeling it; a sad end to a long political career.”

If he’s still capable of feeling it? An old man accused of an ancient indiscretion doesn’t shell out millions of dollars to keep it quiet if he doesn’t give a damn what he did. Kass knows that. He explained there are operatives who would have known how to bury these bones so deep no one would ever have found them, but Hastert didn’t turn to them, presumably because he didn’t want to share his secret with anyone.

“So he did it himself,” said Kass. “And though I’m speculating here, I think we can see why. He was ashamed.”

I think of Hastert as an old man haunted by a sin that cannot say its name. I feel sorry for him.

As they say about hammers, if that’s your only tool, every problem becomes a nail. If every shamed politician is simply another proof of a corrupt cabal that runs our state, Dennis Hastert is simply the newest name on the list. If that’s all he is he’s not even interesting.