Thursday, February 18, 2010

George Ryan Ad Nauseum

 Because of some changes in my driving habits, I've become a fan of WLS 890 AM, Chicago. The format is news and talk. There is an interesting lineup of morning shows and the conversations move along well. To top it off, the local hosts (Don Wade and Roma, Roe Conn, Cisco Cotto) are smart, witty and pleasant to spend time with. My only problem with it all is that I don't know the secret code that actually gets one past the "screener" and on the air. I have tried announcing myself as "professor" and even an "expert" from time to time. No go. I have also tried low-profile-average-guy-lucky-to-be-here approach. Nothing doing.

Today's topic: the possible pardon of former Illinois Governor George Ryan. Don't know why I even thought I had a chance of getting on the air!


I've probably heard a dozen possible-pardon-for-George-Ryan discussions on the radio over the years. No one in the media of Illinois appears to have any amount sympathy for him. Callers rant and rave about "favoritism" and the need for Ryan to "serve the time" without "special treatment." Ryan is aging and has some health problems. No one cares. Many such arguments can, of course, be made against the granting of any pardon.

Then comes the nuclear option: "Ryan is responsible for killing 6 people." The logical thing to follow such a comment is a fierce complaint that there were no indictments for murder. Not one! But, a mere moment of silent seriousness is enough for a stark reality to land with a resounding thud: hardly anyone would be keen on the Nation's prosecutors using such tenuous causal analysis to convict, as "murderers," persons so far removed (yet "connected") to deaths.

Ah, but today, somehow, I made it in the "cue." Or, at least I was put on "hold." There was something in the tone and shortness of the "screener's" voice that told me I was way down the line. So, I had to listen to the other callers "in front" of me. No one mentioned that Obama hasn't pardoned anyone yet, and is one of the slowest presidents in history to do so. No one seemed to think that former Governor Rod Blagojevich's situation was relevant. No one mentioned that there is a Democratic governor in prison (Edwin Edwards, LA) who has a much better argument for clemency than Ryan. No one mentioned the phenomenal success that governors have had, historically, at beating the rap, avoiding prison and/or getting pardons.

And then - just like that - the topic changed. The caller cue was cleared. And my zero-for-ever streak continues. BBC, NPR, PBS, Times, Post, Wall Street Journal ... been there, done all that. WLS? A mountain I have yet to ascend! Fortunately, the experience also featured one bull's eye observation by Mr. Cotto:

Where ever one stands on pardons, pardons for corrupt politicians, pardons for those who are aging and in poor health, there is one particular feature of this story that has such a peculiar, offensive odor that, in all likelihood, it almost guarantees that Mr. Ryan will serve his time or exit prison only upon medical certification that his own death is imminent. The offending odor is the hubris of George Ryan. His presentation of self meticulously avoids critical concepts like remorse, regret, responsibility, repentance - you know, the things which are not sufficient conditions for an extraordinary plea for mercy like his own, but are certainly necessary conditions. No, Mr. Ryan wants grand mercy with minimal effort (see commentary on his "statement" last year here). He just doesn't get it.

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