Thursday, September 01, 2005

Carol Marin—Meet Democrat George Ryan

Carol Marin has it all worked out. Former Governor George Ryan should cop a plea she says [See here]. If he doesn’t, he risks a guilty verdict at trial with a follow-up sentence of up to 95 years. He could maybe cut that sentence down to something more livable, so to speak, with a plea agreement. Marin doesn’t say, but I’m guessing the Feds may go for 54 months. With time off for good behavior, the 71 year old Ryan could get out just short of four years-- a ginger 75 when his freedom is returned.

Marin says—do it George, cop a plea; She thinks George Ryan “should,” plead guilty so he can:

Be accountable. And spare his anguished wife, his children, the Republican Party and the citizen-taxpayer-voters of this state any further time, embarrassment or expense.
Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Carol Marin, August 31, 2005

Carol, Carol—where to start.

You have to look at it through the somewhat distorted lens giving George his vision. One, Carol—the life expectancy of a 71 year old can’t be much more than 75, so 4 years is almost a life sentence. No great bargain there. Sure, at least he is not facing a summary execution—and even if he were, he could thank himself for his [still in existence] death penalty moratorium.

Two, be accountable? George doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Sure, the jurors may be told that George Ryan “should have known,” what Scott Fawell was doing and saying at the other end of his office. They may be told that means he had [constructive] knowledge that his campaign was a criminal enterprise. But, I am sure he would tell you, Carol, that that doesn’t mean “he really knew,” and he didn’t, he would say. So, no, he won’t be accountable.

Anyway, a lot of those George Ryan quid pro quos could simply reflect “coincidence,” as the current Governor, Rod Blagojevich, might argue about his ongoing ability to match government business with hefty campaign contributions. [See here]. Can Blago help it if people who “play,” with the State just like to “support Hot Rod?” Could George help it that people wanted to Pay to Play. Come on Carol, what are you? Some kind of a communist? Do you think everything should be free?

Three, spare his wife and kids any further time, embarrassment or expense? Carol, Carol, don’t you understand, he is doing this and always has done it, all for them- the kids and the wife. Have faith Carol, this will become clear in a minute.

Four, spare the Republican Party any further time, embarrassment or expense? Carol, Carol, haven’t you heard? My, my-- this I thought you would know. George and the Republican Party were separated about six years ago, culminating in a final divorce decree near the end of his gubernatorial term. The Republican Party, in large part, is Pro-Life, Pro-Gun Rights, Pro-Traditional Family, Pro Capital Punishment, Anti-Tax, Anti-Spending and Anti-O’Hare expansion. And, now, most of all, Pro-Reform. George Ryan was all of those things [except the Reform part] in the fall of 1998 when he ran for Governor, and “Flipped,” on each and every one within the first year or two of the Gov. George Ryan Administration.

This is really the key point, which most of the mainstream media have trouble understanding. Early on in his administration, notwithstanding the then U. S. Attorney’s statement during the 1998 campaign that George was not a target, George knew that he was a target. As Hardball’s Chris Matthews said once about a corrupt Philly Mayor, Little Georgie knew what Georgie had done.

Therefore, George knew that he would need the good will of the mainstream media to perhaps bail him out of his mess. You, Carol, were also a target. A target of George’s affection for your affection. To get that affection from the media, George thought, not without basis, that he had to govern left, even though he had run right. So he flipped early on taxes and spending, then on all the rest.

Heck-- if the Chicago Tribune would subsequently label Topinka as a pragmatic, moderate conservative—George knew what he had to do to do to earn applause from the Tribune [Your former paper, Carol]. Go left on the social issues. Gays, Guns and God, as Chairman Dean would say. Okay, so he skipped the God part and substituted abortion.

For other media members, e.g., the editorial board of your paper, Carol [The Chicago Sun-Times], George would go left on the fiscal issues, or as I would put it, the economics issues, as well as the social issues.

By early 2002, most of the transideology surgical change was complete for George. The scandal about the public corruption that characterized George’s tenure at the Secretary of State’s office had worked its magic in HELPING to make sure George could not poll at sufficient heights to warrant a re-election campaign. And, by then, former Senator Peter Fitzgerald, over the strenuous objections of the Chicago Civic Establishment and some of George’s cronies, had brought a new Sheriff to town—U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, and his sights were clearly set on taking the Secretary of State investigation to its logical [and evidence supported] conclusion—which George knew was him.

However, it was not just George’s trail of public corruption that caused George’s approval ratings to plummet to Chicago December temperatures-- the low 20s. No, Carol-- and this has always been virtually ignored by the mainstream media. George’s transformation from conservative to liberal also had a significant impact on George not having a prayer to run for re-election in his former Republican Party. Putting the two together was lethal for George’s re-election hopes, [and especially so in his primary] but he had more important things to worry about, e.g., staying out of jail.

Yes, under the Reagan rule, you only needed to be with Reagan 80% of the time to be his friend. Judy Baar Topinka has lowered the threshold number to 65-70%. But, even that wouldn’t help George Ryan-- who fell woefully short of either. George’s ideology in 2002 agreed with George’s ideology in 1998 about 20% of the time, not so dissimilar from his 20%, or so, approval ratings among Republicans. Among Democrats, he fared somewhat better.

To be fair, the Democrats, like the mainstream media, may not have liked George's corruption-- but they in large part applauded his “growth,” on abortion, guns, gays, airports. And, most of the Democrats liked George Ryan's evolution on spending and taxes, as well. Similarly, most of the media liked George's "evolution," on spending on taxes-- and the media really liked his "evolution," on capital punishment.

By mid to late 2002, as George neared the end of his term, people were speculating that George Ryan might be indicted within his first year out of office. As his first line of defense, George had made inroads into gaining some support and good will from the Democratic community, including the media, but he needed much more.

So, it was to the anti-capital punishment crowd he turned to for succor. These folks would insure a legacy for George, or so he thought. When the indictment came, they would step up. They would be his “first responders,” so to speak-- to his own personal 911.

Of course, the anti-capital punishment crowd applauded his moratorium on the death penalty. But, what they really wanted was a blanket commutation for all on death row to life sentences. That would drive home the notion that no one-- not even the most evil person, clearly guilty of the most heinous act; not even those who had effective counsel—not even a terrorist guilty of killing thousands of civilians—no one should ever again be put to death by the State, no matter what he or she had done. No matter what the law said. This crowd thought that if they could make a deal with George, with a wink and a nod, their purpose for living, so to speak, would be fulfilled. There were exceptions—Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn [Scroll to Zorn's 9/17/02 column, among other capital punishment columns collected here] comes to mind—but they were few and far between.

So, as his gubernatorial term drew to a close, George delivered on his end of the deal. A blanket commutation to all on death row—You say you cut the baby from an expectant mom, killing the mom and a few others? No dispute on the evidence? No dispute you had effective counsel? No dispute on your guilt? No dispute on the appropriate application of the law? Sure, I will commute you—said George with his action.

For George, another day, another deal.

As all know, George was indicted within a year of leaving office. His act of blanket commutation of those on death row, popular as it was with much of the left and a great many Democrats and even a few Republicans, could not deter Patrick Fitzgerald.

But, Carol, on the day his indictment was announced, the Republicans, whose party you say George should spare further agony now, did not rally to George’s defense. Of course not. As argued above, George had long since transitioned to the Democratic Party, the ideological home of his final act of transition, blanket commutation for all on death row.

Who was there to face the press with George on the day he was indicted for public corruption? To embrace George? To remind everyone that defendants are presumed innocent, until proved guilty. To remind everyone that (1) a man is neither all good nor all bad, but a mixture, of course and that (2) Life is complicated. To carry that message for George was a man of honor and distinction. [And, I say that with sincerity—as that man is not just an honorable one, but also a former guest of “Public Affairs,” appearing opposite State’s Attorney Devine] That man, to carry that burden-- that cross, if you will, was George’s ally and mentor, Professor Larry Marshall [See here], then of Northwestern University Law School and its Center on Wrongful Convictions and now of Stanford University Law School.

A deal is a deal, even if implicit, even if tacit, even if made with a nod and a wink.

And following that day, as before, George continues to be worshiped by the anti-Capital Punishment crowd, being invited and going to speak around the world on the topic of abolishing the death penalty. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

So, you see, Carol. This is George’s Legacy. He did the blanket commutation for his family, Carol. He did it for the anti-Capital Punishment Crowd. He did it for Larry Marshall. He did it for Dawn Clark Netsch. He did it for the media. He did it for the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, as Chairman Dean is wont to say. He did it for you-- Carol.

Carol, from Marshall to Netsch to the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, I don’t think there are too many Republicans in that group. Perhaps, a few-- Carol. Who knows, maybe even you. But, listen carefully, please. George Ryan is a Democrat, now. His “evolution,” is complete.

And, now you would like him to cop a plea to spare the Republican Party?

Listen again: This time to the Senior Senator from the State of Illinois, to the No. 2 Democrat in the U. S. Senate, and the man many would argue is now the de facto leader of the Democratic Party—Senator Dick Durbin, speaking at Northwestern University Law School’s Graduation Convocation, one and one half years after George Ryan’s Indictment [See here]:

Irving Harris was a successful man by every measure. He spent the first 42 years of his life making a fortune and the next 52 years giving it away… he loved children…When he died, his legacy was not measured in the size of his estate but in the lives touched and changed by his compassion.

George Ryan spent a different kind of capital – political capital --to right what he believed was a grievous wrong. His decision to challenge the death penalty in our state was an act of uncommon political courage.

George Ryan was an unlikely leader in this cause. But he could not live with the burden of guilt on taking the life of an innocent man. He confronted the injustice of the death penalty and forced this state, our nation and others around the world to face this painful issue honestly.

A century earlier, another Illinois Governor, John Peter Altgeld, had sacrificed his political career when he freed the last of the Haymarket prisoners… He was vilified in the press, and three and a half years later, defeated for re-election.

George Ryan knew that emptying death row would hurt him politically, too. But he did it anyway. Like Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who declared after 20 years of supporting the death penalty, “I will no longer tinker with the machinery of death,” George Ryan dissented from the popular view.

The Bluhm Clinic's Center on Wrongful Convictions did the extensive research, the endless investigations, and created the moral and political force that drove this historic debate and led George Ryan to his position. And by following his conscience, George Ryan – more than any other person in our time – changed the debate on the death penalty in America.

Senator Dick Durbin [D-Illinois], Speaking at Northwestern University Law School's Graduation, May 24, 2005.

So, you see, Carol, it has worked. Senator Dick Durbin has anointed his fellow Democrat, George Ryan, with the holy oil of Irving Harris, Governor Altgeld and U. S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun [A man who also “evolved,” from being a Minnesota Twin to authoring Roe v. Wade].

And now, you want George Ryan to cop a plea. Carol, that would give up the dream, give up the legacy, give up the honors that Senator Durbin and others in the Democratic Party have bestowed upon one of their own, Democrat George Ryan.

You want George to do that to spare his anguished wife, his children, the Republican Party and the citizen-taxpayer-voters of this state any further time, embarrassment or expense?

As to his wife and kids, George’s new legacy is for them as much as for him, so that wouldn’t do. I do this for them and You, says George.

And, as to the Republican Party, surely you jest. What does George have to do with the Republican Party. That is ancient history, Carol. And not a very happy one.

And, as to sparing the citizen-taxpayer-voters of this state any further time, embarrassment or expense? Let them eat cake, he says.

Carol, Carol: George Ryan can’t cop a plea. Try him, if you must. Convict him, if you must. Put him in jail for the rest of his life, if you must. Indeed, crucify him, if you must. But, he has his legacy. Senator Dick Durbin, his fellow Democrats and the mainstream media have seen to that. Yes, the media may turn on him over the next few weeks. But will Professor Larry Marshall, from Palo Alto, turn on George? Will Senator Durbin, while trying to defeat Supreme Court nominee Roberts [the man who Durbin thinks will undo Blackmun’s Roe] come back from Washington, DC to turn on George? I don’t think so. A deal is a deal.

Indeed, will you Carol? Will you turn on George?
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at