Tuesday, November 23, 2010

George Ryan brings out our worst side

There are some cold-hearted people inhabiting Planet Earth. Anybody who doubts that fact ought to read the running commentary that gets spewed on the Internet any time George Ryan’s name comes up.

Should 16627-424 be released?
Most recently, that was Monday, when attorneys for Ryan argued that the same legal principles that allowed one-time newspaper mogul Conrad Black to be released from prison while his criminal appeals are pending should allow Illinois’ former governor to be released from the work camp outside of the maximum-security federal  prison near Terre Haute, Ind.

THEY ARGUE THAT he has already served more than three years in prison, and that there is a good chance that the rest of his prison time would be for convictions on charges that would no longer apply under new legal standards for an “honest services” conviction.

In short, Ryan may well have already served his prison term, and should be released so he can be with wife Lura Lynn when she dies – which according to arguments heard Monday in court could come some time during 2011.

Not that many people are being swayed by any of this.

In fact, I have lost count of the number of people who think that Lura Lynn herself should either be in jail with George, or should move herself to some apartment in Terre Haute if she really feels the need to have some proximity to her husband of six decades.

THERE EVEN WERE those people who accused her of faking her appearance in the courtroom on Monday – no makeup and she was lugging around an oxygen tank to help her breathe.

Then, there are those people who want to trot out variations on what has to have become one of the lamest clichés ever to be derived from a television show.

I’m referring, of course, to, “Don’t Do the Crime, if you Can’t do the Time.” From “Baretta.” Every time I hear someone trot out that line, it makes me despise that television program from my childhood years even more than actor Robert Blake’s youthful performances in the final incarnation of the Our Gang kids.

My point in bringing all of this up is to point out how little the concept of rational thought has to do with our gut reactions to George Ryan, and whether or not the man has suffered enough for not really caring that his employees in the Illinois secretary of state’s office (particularly, the department of motor vehicles) were shaking down unqualified drivers for bribes in exchange for the licenses that allowed them to have their jobs.

AS ANYONE WHO has read my past commentary on this issue already knows, I believe this was an incident where the actual “criminality” of the act occurred at the lowest level, although it bothers me that Ryan’s initial reaction was to try to keep such behavior from tainting his political post – rather than trying to punish those workers who thought that one of the perks of their job was to be able to solicit such bribes.

So yes, I thought it was punishment enough that when all of this came to light during Ryan’s subsequent term as governor, the outcry was so severe that he was unable to seriously contemplate running for re-election.

It sent him into political retirement, and my guess is that he would have had the same visceral reaction to such status as Roland Burris has had throughout the years – continually seeking a return to public life, even though his time had passed.

I will always believe that a large part of the opposition to Ryan, including the people whom to this day still insist on as much incarceration as possible, is due to the fact that Republican Ryan didn’t behave as a blatant political partisan during his time as governor.

THEY MAY TALK about corruption, but in their minds, the corrupt act was that he was willing to listen to those death penalty opponents and take their arguments seriously enough that he eventually cleared out Illinois’ Death Row when it became apparent that the state Legislature would never approve a reform of the capital crimes statute for him to sign into law.

I’m not crediting Ryan with sainthood for that act (unlike those people who perpetually nominate Ryan for the Nobel Prize). But it is a factor for those people such as the one Internet commenter I saw who argued that Ryan should be thankful he only got a 6-year prison term, rather than 30 years or more like some other people convicted of felony offenses.

Which I will admit is part of the reason why I can support some sense of compassion for Ryan’s case. Just the thought that it would greatly offend people whose thought processes on this matter I find offensive means it probably is the right thing to do.

So while I am not under any delusion that U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer would care in the least what I think, I am hoping she comes to some ruling with regards to Monday’s legal arguments that does cut short Ryan’s time in prison.

I THINK IT is time we as a society in Illinois get past George Ryan. Letting him become a decrepit old man with a felony conviction at the family home in Kankakee is an unpleasant fate for someone who lived for so long in the public eye.

For those people who secretly dream of Ryan being attacked by fellow inmates and dying in some sort of prison brawl, all I have to say is that you have serious issues to address in your own life. With such unpleasant thoughts, you may be a bigger threat to our society than Ryan could ever be.


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