When James Baldwin wrote, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose,” he probably wasn’t foreseeing the career of former Illinois Governor George Ryan, but he could have been.

Last week, in an “I’m almost out of office” move that rivaled Bill Clinton’s 11th hour antics, Ryan emptied Illinois’ death row. Given, Ryan had been toying with the idea for some time, but would he really have done it had he been up for re-election? If he knew that voters would hold him responsible for his decision, would he still have found morality in sparing death row convicts?

When the end is in sight, true colors come pouring out.

Remember that rotten course you had? Sure, you always laughed at the professor’s jokes and looked like you were paying attention in class, but when it came time to write the course evaluation, ha! Nothing he could do now, right?

To be sure though, Ryan isn’t the only politician so far this year to have made substantial decisions before entering private citizenry.

As the clock wound down on the tenure of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, he did something out of the ordinary for a Republican Majority Leader: he publicly disagreed with a Republican White House.

Back in the fall when President Bush was seeking carte blanche congressional approval for actions in Iraq, Armey started expressing his doubts so loudly that Vice President Cheney came over to the Capitol to personally lobby the then Majority Leader. Armey quieted down and went along.

Let it be a lesson to us all – politicians are most dangerous right before they load their boxes on the U-Haul.

Don’t think for a second that Armey would have had frijoles like that if he had to worry about getting re-elected to the House, not to mention the congressional leadership. Luckily for the Bush White House, in this new Congress, dissention in the ranks will be nonexistent with Tom DeLay as Majority Leader. They don’t call him “The Hammer” for nothing.

There’s something very disconcerting with all this; with the realization that politicians are only prone to showing who they really are, doing what they really believe in, once they know no one can touch them. These are individuals who have made their careers on taking the politically wise, poll tested, partisan-approved course of action. In the end then, it’s their humanity peeking out, and it’s spitting in the faces all of us who believe that politics is an honorable profession and should be home to those who at least possess the strength of their convictions.

Why is it that politicians believe they can’t win by running as who they really are – saying what they really believe, instead of what they believe we really want to hear? Ryan knew that the vast majority of Americans support the death penalty, and that’s why he waited until the end to clear death row. If we, as Americans, are more content with supporting a partisan line of action over the agenda of an individual candidate, why don’t we just cut out the middleman from the process? Why don’t we just vote for parties and drop the candidates from the picture? After all, the congressman/senator/governor/president probably won’t have the pluck to do what we put him office for until he is on his way out, if at all.

What good does it do any of us if politicians are only acting as they believe they should, filling the role they were elected to play, until their last few hours in office when they really come to life? Admittedly, politics would be significantly more contentious, party leaders would be much less powerful, and polling firms would have to run bake sales just to get by, but imagine how much more meaningful politics would become? Just imagine how much more would be done if our representatives did what they believed in. Maybe they would win re-election in a walk, maybe they would lose in a landslide, but at least they would be able to say they stood for something. For today though, the epitaph that will mark most political careers is one of insignificance, triviality and pettiness.

When Baldwin wrote that, “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become,” he probably wasn’t referring to the art of acquiescence that is American politics. But he could have been.

Adam Jones is a junior in the College and can be reached at jonesthehoya.com.

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