How desperate is George Ryan to get out of the federal prison at Terre Haute, Ind.? He is so desperate that he finally did Friday what he had refused to do for all these years – he apologized.
Ryan, with the support of his son, George Jr., wrote a three-paragraph statement that was meant to be a mea culpa for all the criminal acts people think he did during his time as governor (even though the criminal charges against him relate to activity during his time as Illinois Secretary of State).
AND THAT STATEMENT was sent from Terre Haute to Chicago, where another former Illinois governor, James R. Thompson, read it to reporter-types at his downtown Chicago law office in hopes that it will bolster the chances that soon-to-be-former President George W. Bush will look favorably upon Ryan’s request for clemency.
Ryan has served just over one year of a 6 ½-year prison term, and has to serve just over four more years before he could be eligible for early release. Considering that Ryan is already 74, there’s a good chance that he might not live that long.
So Thompson is putting his legal reputation on the line in supporting Ryan’s request to Bush for a commutation of sentence, which would leave Ryan’s criminal record intact but would let him return home to Kankakee, where wife Lura Lynn is struggling financially to survive.
Just what effect will an apology have now? I don’t think it will mean much, since I am inclined to believe that Bush is not the type of person who will look sympathetically at Ryan’s plight.
BESIDES, HE HAS his own crowd of allies who have committed acts in recent years (think Abu Ghraib) that will require presidential clemency to spare them prison time. Why should Bush waste clemency on Ryan when there are others who, in his mind, deserve it more?
And based on various Internet sites that offer people a chance to comment on various issues, it is clear that nobody wants to hear an apology from George Ryan. They want to see him rot away in prison.
Think I’m kidding? Take this comment – “Sorry Ryan, rot in prison. No mercy” – from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website, posted just after Thompson read the statement, which was broadcast le on several Chicago television newscasts. Or, take this statement attached to a Chicago Sun-Times story posted on the Internet:
“It would only be poetic justice if governors Ryan and Blagojevich were forced to share … the same cell at the federal prison at Terre Haute, Ind.”
THAT SENTIMENT (THE notion that Ryan and Blagojevich are somehow equal in status) is about the only reason I can think of in which an apology from Ryan makes any sense.
George Ryan wants to establish the thought in our minds that he’s the public official who is apologetic about his actions. He’s sorry, and wishes he could take it back.
When compared to Blagojevich’s actions the same day – meeting with ministers at his home and telling them how he intends to beat the rap because he didn’t do anything illegal – George comes off looking downright contrite.
Ryan wants us to think of him as the “good” convicted politico, while thinking of Blagojevich as the “bad” politico facing criminal charges.
YET ONLY IN that context does George Ryan come off looking good. By any other standard, the apology offered Friday doesn’t mean much. All too many Illinoisans are willing to think of Ryan and Blagojevich as political twins – which even Thompson concedes, he has said publicly that the incumbent governor’s legal predicament harms his chances of getting presidential clemency for Ryan.
Keep in mind that this thought about Ryan’s activity on Friday is being expressed by someone who has always thought much of the criticism against Ryan throughout the years is absurd.
An apology in the earliest days of this political saga (meaning, several years ago) might have been listened to. Now, it comes off as insincere rhetoric from a political person who can’t handle the mental stress of prison life (even though Thompson said on Friday that Ryan’s change of heart was due to his year of incarceration giving him the chance to reflect upon his life’s actions).
Even then, many of Ryan’s activities as governor (particularly his efforts to reform the death penalty in Illinois that culminated with him providing varying forms of clemency for the just over 160 inmates on death row at the time of Ryan’s departure from politics in early 2003) would have motivated Ryan’s critics to refuse to listen to anything he had to say.
THOMPSON DID MAKE one legitimate point, in saying that it would not have been realistic to expect Ryan to say anything that resembled an apology prior to now, because he had court proceedings, then legal appeals, pending before him.
Which means he had a legal responsibility to shut up and let the court activity run its course.
But now? Ryan says his, “goal is to do the right thing, no matter how tardy or flawed.”
Somehow, I don’t see the president or the public at-large buying it. For Ryan’s sake, I only hope he survives long enough to see Independence Day of 2013 – which is the date he is tentatively scheduled for release from prison.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Some people think that showing any sympathy for George Ryan is a sign (http://www.suntimes.com/news/commentary/1322545,editorial-ryan-no-commute-sentence-121008.article) that Rod Blagojevich may also get undeserved sympathy some day.
He’s sorry. (http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=6553141) He’s really, really sorry.
Ryan’s so-called allies among conservatives and Republicans have always been his most-outspoken (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/12/10/opinion/main4660712.shtml) critics when it comes to the long-shot concept of George W. Bush granting him some form of clemency.