Dennis Hastert sat across from me, his seventy-four-year-old face riddled with frown lines. A recent stroke confined him to a wheelchair and he sat hunched slightly as if the weight of the world was residing on the shoulders of his Brooks Brothers suit.
I had been summoned here to analyze this man after he was convicted, not of the actual molestations, but of a financial coverup to hide the fact that he was paying his victims hush-money. Yorkville High School is but a few towns over from my house, so I decided to throw caution to the wind. I requested an interview with him and, surprise, he agreed under the stipulation that I wouldn't publish anything he deemed "unworthy."
Let's just say I had to break the journalist's oath on this one.
Steven Krage: Mr. Hastert, have the years of anticipation braced you for this eventuality?
Dennis Hastert: I never actually thought, at this stage of my life, that I'd be going to jail. I was an honest man when it came to my politics, but I was the product of the era I was teaching in. The seventies were almost over and that feeling of love and acceptance that permeated the decade were still palpable. I never thought what I was doing was wrong.
SK: Let's talk about ethics for a second, shall we? What ideals have you held in your life?
DH: In my life, I've held close these two simple concepts: do what you think is right and ask questions later. In politics often times there aren't enough minutes in the day to vet and research. Your gut is your most valuable tool as a politician and as a human.
SK: In that case, do you believe you were doing right by these boys you "mentored?"
DH: Unless you were in the situation I was in, you can't begin to understand. You journalists all love to get on your high horses and put your noses in the air, but I bet you'd do the same thing I did, given half a minute.
SK: Moving on...
DH: (raising from his wheelchair slightly) I may be shamed, but I'm not an idiot. I know that things happen for a specific reason. I'm guided by the path fate has led me on. None of these actions have been my own. It's all be preordained for me, as the book of life was written at the time of my birth.
SK: How can you prove that your life was set in stone from the moment of your conception?
DH: Look at all the different people who live in the world. Do you think the chance of free will is what makes us decide what to do? No. Our train doesn't leave the track until the routes been planned for us.
SK: (After a short silence) Mr. Hastert, what do you believe was the moment you decided to violate them?
DH: I hardly remember those days, let alone my motives. I can't tell you one way or another why I decided to do it. All I can remember is that it felt right, no question about it.
SK: Are you often led to action by "feelings?"
DH: Aren't we all? (a pause, waiting for a comment)
SK: I can't answer that, in all honesty.
DH: Then I'll answer it for you. Any man who says that emotion doesn't make him act is lying. What I did was wrong and I regret it. They looked up to me and I took advantage of them.But I defend to the death that my actions were based on the passion I was born with.
SK: In your trial you were never convicted of the actual molestations themselves, just the financial coverup. Do you believe this vindicates you?
DH: I still have to pay the reaper, either way. $250,000, 15 months in jail and all the other shit they've thrown in are making up for the fact that they couldn't get me cause of the statute of limitations.
SK: But you argued that, because of your health, you should only be given probation?
DH: Wouldn't you have done the same? If you're given a loophole, don't you ride that thing until it's used up? This stroke has hindered me, but the court disregarded that. They would much rather see an old man suffer than "injustice" go unpunished. I hope that I now can focus on addressing my health issues and on healing the emotional damage that has been inflicted on my family and friends who have shown unwavering support throughout this trying time.
SK: Judge Thomas Derkin, during your trial, said the following: "Nothing is worse than using serial child molester and speaker of the House in the same sentence." Do you think your actions have tarnished the office you held?
DH: My actions and my political career are totally separate from each other. I was a good politician and I worked damn hard. I believe a man should keep his work and his personal life separate. The things I accomplished are in no way diminished by what I did. Politics is a contact sport. Sometimes you get a little blood on the field and sometimes off. It's all part of the game.
SK: So, do you believe this was a game?
DH: Damn straight I do. It was fun while it lasted and now it's over. I've made my bed and now I'll lie in it, thank you very much. You and the rest of the world can watch with your upturned noses and rhetoric. But I, and only I, truly know what happened. No one will ever know the extent of what I did and I aim to keep it that way. I'm not going [convicted former Mayor Rod] Blajojevich's way and write a whiny little book about it or one apologizing and blaming my parents. I know what I did, why I did it, and that's certainly enough for me.
SK: One final question, If I may. You once said, "What makes America great is that we can come together during times of national tragedy." Do you believe that this scandal counts as a national tragedy?
DH: Not even close.
(The above work, though based on actual events, is fictional and should not be treated as anything but fiction. Many quotes I used as Hastert's dialogue come from this NBC News article.)