Thursday, June 24, 2004

Statewide candidates shouldn't be government virgins

Essentially, Jack Ryan is a virgin to government. He's never served in elected or appointed office. That service gives people a real humility as to one person's limitations and also a sense of accountability to higher-ups.

Right now, when almost the entire Republican establishment is calling for Jack Ryan to step down, the candidate seems unmoved. I don't think one can keep that sense of absolute detachment from the urgent needs of other candidates and party leaders if one had any government service at all. It is a little odd, isn't it, that Jack Ryan just doesn't seem to care that the party leaders want him to step down. (Of course, that could be just his public face, but I suspect he believes that it is his decision alone and that calls by other party leaders are sort of meddling in 'his' campaign. I could be wrong.)

I think one lesson is that political virgins make for bad candidates. It's funny, because there's a deep urge for 'independent' candidates and 'independent' officials. But another word for 'independent' in 'unaccountable' and I'm beginning to see how the culture of governing in a democracy, which is always a consensus-seeking culture (either within a caucus or committee or chamber), can conflict with the urge for independence. Jack Ryan's relationship with the Illinois Republican Party right now is an example of that clash of cultures.

It's also odd, isn't it, that Jack Ryan alone has the entire Illinois Republican Party in his palm. He alone -- no committee, no group of elected officials, no electorate -- decides whether he will remain the candidate of the Republican Party. He alone decides whether Republican turnout is depressed or energized, as he alone decides whether to remain in the race. Pressure can be brought to bear on him, of course, but ultimately it is his decision. Even if every elected Republican in the state -- every precinct committeeman, every ward and township committeeman, every state legislator, county board members and Member of Congress -- unanimously decided they wanted a different candidate, there's nothing they can do about it. The decision remains for the government virgin to make (and I don't mean that pejoratively, but a civic-minded investment banker who taught high school for a few years has, in fact, no government experience).

In other nations where political parties are vested with more authority and control over their internal affairs, Jack Ryan would have been pulled off the ticket yesterday, whether he wanted to stay or not.

And for that matter, 100 years ago in the U.S. before the progressives championed the direct primary election, the old party caucuses that used to run the show ("King Caucus" they were called) would have yanked Jack Ryan off the ballot.

Isn't it interesting how election laws change the political culture? Right now we're all waiting for One Man's Decision. And all the Illinois Republican Party can do as an institution is complain.

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