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Posts Tagged ‘George Ryan’

It’s not a great time to be from Illinois. Yesterday a friend of mine, a native Chicagoan who now lives in New Jersey, IM’d me with this: “Geez, what’s wrong with your politicians out there?” She seemed to happily forget that she, too, is from the Land of Lincoln (and Blagojevich).

Anyway, just as I felt proud to be an American on Nov. 4, I’ve been feeling embarrassed about being an Illinoisan today. What in the world is going on with a state that has not one but two consecutive governors who are immersed in corruption? And to think that, in an earlier post, I embraced the idea of extending grace to former Governor George Ryan for his transgressions. (Can you imagine what Ryan must be feeling right now in the wake of these revelations? Probably doesn’t exactly bolster his chances for an early release.)   

Governor Rod Blagojevich’s alleged actions have left everyone feeling either sad, mad, or stunned. Why on earth would someone who has been the subject of Federal investigations for the past five years attempt to “sell” a U.S. Senate seat, among other things? The astonishment and hyperbole that’s been used to describe this latest scandal, from the mouths of Federal investigators who have seen plenty of corruption, speaks to the tragic and unfathomable nature of these events.

Not only do Blagojevich’s alleged actions speak of unparalleled hubris, one has to think that, given the cloud of suspicion that he’s been under for a long time, he must be suffering from some form of mental illness. (Of course, sin is a mental illness that we all contend with daily, right?)

My first reaction was to call the guy a “total idiot.” How could he be so stupid, greedy, and vindictive? This bum needs to resign—or be impeached—sooner rather than later. Lock up he and his “pay to play” political cohorts. But then I saw video of his wife and two young daughters walking out of their home on the news, and I was reminded of his humanity. And I thought, Lord, have mercy on this man and his family. 

Then I started to think about my own instances of actions that border on unethical at best and illegal at worst. Aren’t we all engaged in some manner of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” behavior from time to time—in the workplace, in our personal relationships, in our finances? Which led me to think, Lord, have mercy on me.

I haven’t had time to read many commentaries on this scandal yet, but I did find Eric Easter’s comments over at EbonyJet.com quite challenging. Easter asks the question, “Are we all corrupt?” And suggests that there may be a thin line between what Blagojevich was doing and stuff that we do each day.

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I’m always a little intrigued by how easy it is for us humans to instinctively demand justice, yet how deep we have to dig in order to muster up any inclination toward mercy or forgiveness. What’s up with that? I understand that God has wired us with that desire for righteousness, to see “the crooked made straight and the rough places plain” (Isa. 40:4). But I also know how much trouble we get into when we presume to dispense judgment without mercy. Wouldn’t it be something if, instead of righteous indignation, our first instinct was one of grace and mercy? What would that look like?

I say all this because I’ve been fascinated by the response to a situation here in Illinois. Many of you probably know that our former governor George Ryan was sentenced to a six-year prison term for a variety of corruption charges that stem from his tenure as secretary of state. Probably the most notable and tragic result of Ryan’s crimes were the deaths of the six children of Scott and Janet Willis, who were killed in a fiery traffic accident caused by a trucker who obtained his driver’s license illegally from one of Ryan’s secretary of state offices. Consequently, many people view Ryan as an accomplice to murder.

Dick Durbin, one of our U.S. senators, recently sent a letter to President Bush requesting that Ryan’s prison sentence be commuted to the one year he has served already. (Coincidentally, Durbin is a Democrat and Ryan is a Republican.) In a truly gracious display that, unfortunately, has been drowned out by the cynical cries of favoritism and “politics as usual,” Durbin writes that the 74-year-old Ryan “has lost his state pension benefits and a commutation will not restore them. He would emerge from prison facing economic uncertainty at an advanced stage of his life.” He also notes that Ryan’s wife, Lura Lynn, is in declining health and would benefit from her husband’s presence. Durbin continues:

“For those who would argue that a commutation makes light of his crimes, it is clear that he has already paid a significant price and will continue to do so as long as he lives. Justice is a sword that should be tempered with compassion. Further imprisonment will not, in my opinion, serve the ends of justice.”

For this, Durbin has taken a major lashing from the public. On the Chicago Tribune website, one commenter opined, “Whatever good opinion I have had of Senator Durbin has just diminished to zero. He has just added to the belief that politicians stick together no matter what the crime. It is time that they not be considered untouchable where justice is concerned.” Responding to the criticism, Durbin said he had been “raised in a tradition of redemption” and that he believed Ryan has already paid a great price.

However, the overwhelming majority of folks seem adamant that Ryan should not be given any special treatment. Again on the Tribune site, in a survey that asks: “Should President Bush set Gov. George Ryan free?,” out of 1,977 respondents (when I last checked), a whopping 1,617 said “No,” while only 360 folks said “Yes.” That’s 82% whose natural and abiding impulse is to go by the letter of the law versus 18% who think the old guy has suffered enough.

Ironically, Gov. George Ryan’s other great controversial act was the moratorium he placed on Illinois’s death penalty because of several dubious cases where individuals were unfairly tried. Then, before leaving office in 2003, Ryan commuted the death sentences of every inmate on Illinois’ Death Row—167 in all—to life in prison.

What do you think? What’s the proper balance between mercy and justice? Would commuting Gov. Ryan’s sentence send the wrong message, or would it send exactly the kind of message our society needs to witness more of—one of compassion, forgiveness, and grace?

In What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey writes:

Because it goes against human nature, forgiveness must be taught and practiced, as one would practice any difficult craft. “Forgiveness is not just an occasional act: it is a permanent attitude,” said Martin Luther King Jr. What greater gift could Christians give to the world than the forming of a culture that upholds grace and forgiveness?

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