It's fascinating to see how this particular matter has riveted the attention of the country. (To the extent it can be riveted, anyway. We seem to have hit the summer doldrums a bit early.) And to see how badly one can misread events when seen through the wrong lens.
Six years ago, Republicans demanded that Bill Clinton be investigated and impeached for having sex with an intern and covering it up. Now their nominee for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, Jack Ryan, is brushing off his then-wife's allegations that he repeatedly pressured her, despite her protestations, to have sex with him in front of other people. Instead of denouncing Ryan, many Republicans are defending him. [...]
Compare and contrast:
Beleaguered Senate Republican candidate Jack Ryan is considering quitting the race in the uproar touched off by the release of his divorce records, a Republican source told the Chicago Sun- Times on Thursday. "Heís reassessing," the source said.
Ryan canceled a trip to Washington today where he had planned to appear with Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) and attend a fund raiser headlined by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Another fund raiser that had been set for this morning with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was also canceled when Hastert had a meeting at the White House. That cancellation contributed to the perception that the Ryan campaign was facing opposition from one of the top political leaders in the state.
The source said that Ryan was particularly concerned that the "tabloids are going after" Jeri Lynn Ryan, his former wife who alleged that Ryan brought her to sex clubs when they were married. Jeri Ryan is a television actress known for her roles on "Star Trek" and "Boston Public." The couple found that it was "not helpful" to refight old fights, the source said. [...] Ryan has a fundraiser scheduled for Lincoln Park tonight. It is not know the status of that event. "Everything is on hold" in the campaign while Ryan decides his future, the source told the Sun-Times.
Jeri Ryan said Wednesday she stands by allegations she made in their 1999 divorce that Jack Ryan insisted she go to sex clubs during their marriage and asked her to have sex with him while others watched. However, she supports her ex-husbandís candidacy.
GOP pols band together against Ryan (Chicago Sun-Times)
June 24, 2004
BY SCOTT FORNEK Political Reporter
They just want him to go away.
But they can't make him.
"There is almost a complete unanimity of opinion in all the leaders I spoke to saying, 'He needs to go and go quickly,' " said one top GOP leader. "But there is no way we can force it."
As top Republicans privately pondered Wednesday how to get Jack Ryan to step down as their U.S. Senate nominee, the embattled investment banker received another headache. Hollywood actress Jeri Ryan says she stands by allegations she made after their 1999 divorce that Jack Ryan insisted she go to sex clubs during their marriage and asked her to have sex with him while others watched, according to a statement aired Wednesday by "Entertainment Tonight." "Jeri's statement can be found in the original court documents and the truth has not changed in the last five years," a publicist for the star of "Boston Public" said. "We will not be releasing any additional statements, but Jeri does wish Jack the best of luck in his Senate campaign." The statement is the first to come directly from the actress since a Los Angeles judge unsealed records from the couple's 2000 and 2001 child custody dispute Monday.
Now I ask you, do those two articles sound like defense?
The problem with Saletan's article is that he was looking in the wrong place. He was talking to top Republicans in Washington, and it's logical to assume that what top Republicans want might have some sway. However, this is the sort of case where you see the meaning of Tip O'Neill's statement that "all politics is local". The people who control what happens here are all local to Illinois: Ryan himself and the local GOP machinery.
And the local GOP machinery is pissed.
And the truly remarkable thing is that, based on his public statements and interviews, Ryan doesn't seem to have the slightest idea why.
According to statements from GOP officials, Ryan assured them that there was nothing embarrassing or explicit in the divorce papers being unsealed, although he did reportedly say that the allegations were very nasty. The officials, including former governor Jim Edgar (still very very powerful in these here parts) and GOP chair Judy Baar Topinka, all went out and defended him based on these statements. They now all seem to feel that they were hung out to twist in the wind and look terribly foolish, and are furious at him as a result. Normally, this would be the sort of thing one would take with perhaps a teaspoon of salt. Thing is, I have to believe that if they had known the specifics of the charges, either their defense would have been different -- they certainly wouldn't have talked about the papers not being embarrassing -- or they would have flatly refused to say anything either for or against him, which would be far more likely. After all, getting mixed up in the aftermath of someone's divorce is bad enough; who wants to unexpectedly find themselves defending someone's alleged sex life?
The other remarkable thing is that Ryan truly does not seem to understand why his actions provoked such media attention. On Tuesday night's Chicago Tonight public affairs show on WTTW, he complained that normally, politicians' custody papers don't get such attention. After a moment's pause, Elizabeth Brackett, the show host, said to him -- rather more gently than most people would have -- that what attracted initial attention was that he had sealed documents that are normally public -- divorce and custory agreements are on file and available for public access in almost every state, including both Illinois and California -- which indicated that he had something to hide. Judging from his expression, that simply sailed right past; he doesn't seem to connect his actions with the results.
Nationally, the story is focused on Jeri Ryan and the sex club allegations. These are, of course, the easiest to present, and the most tittilating. Locally, attention seems to mostly be focused on the fact that the GOP is publicly furious at him, and wants him gone. Getting rid of the candidate at this late stage of the game, if such happens, virtually guarantees Obama the seat; a candidate would be getting a massively late fundraising start, plus they would need to figure out what their positions actually were. Additionally, simply finding a candidate will be difficult; the people who ran against Ryan in the primaries lost so very badly that the state GOP doesn't really want to touch them, and all the other Republicans of some stature have frequently and repeatedly declined to run for the office, even before this scandal. But only the Republicans of stature have big enough name recognition to alleviate some of the massive disadvantage they would have in being both late to the game, and being perceived as a poor second choice to a disgraced candidate.Posted by iain at June 24, 2004 12:35 PM