A man for no seasons

John J. Hopkins Aug. 28, 2005, 10:40am

One of the most honored films of the past 40 years is the 1966 multiple Oscar winner, “A Man for All Seasons.” Telling the heroic tale of Sir Thomas More, the film won Academy Awards for direction, editing, Robert Bolt’s adaption of his own play, Best Actor for Paul Schofield, and finally, Best Picture.

Sir, now Saint Thomas More, was the Lord Chancellor of England, principal advisor to King Henry VIII, and a man of enormous influence, power and status.

He also was a scholar, fluent in several languages including Greek, and the author of the social commentary, “Utopia,” published in 1515. He was a deeply religious and pious man, fasting completely on Fridays and regularly attending Mass as a devout Catholic.

He was also a lawyer, following in his father’s footsteps. In fact, in the Catholic Church he is considered the patron saint of attorneys.

But as history buffs know, More ran a foul of royal wishes and commands, paying the ultimate price for the ultimate act of conscience. The Bishops of England broke ranks with Rome over King Henry’s plan to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Bolelyn, declaring the King to the “Supreme Head of the Church of England.”

While it may seem trite in modern sensibilities, to Thomas More such a plan was absolutely a moral outrage, and could not under any circumstances be accepted. He resigned his lofty position in protest. He gives up his title, his property and finally his freedom, to preserve his integrity. All this, and then his life, forfeited because he would not swear an oath accepting the King’s new title and new marriage.

Despite the pleadings of his friends to sign the oath, even if personally opposed to it, just to go along and be “politically correct,” More is steadfast.

In a crucial scene he explains to his daughter Margaret the sanctity of an oath: “When a man takes an oath, he is holding his own self in his hands like water. (He cups his hands to demonstrate). And if he breaks this oath (he opens his hands and the water spills out)... he need not hope to ever find himself again.”

Thomas More kept his faith but lost his head. His defiance of the King on moral grounds kept his soul intact and made him an example of an ethical politician who stays true to his principles, no matter the personal costs, truly then, “A Man for All Seasons."

To our detriment, no such shining example occupies the Governor’s mansion in Springfield, in fact, quite the opposite.

On an unusually cold and rainy August day--was Hell freezing over?-- Governor Blagojevich came to my home town, literally around the corner from my house to Saint Anthony’s Hospital in Alton, to sign the Medical Malpractice Reform Bill.

Not only does the Governor’s act strip the rights of the injured consumer, it breaks the oath--the pledge--he gave to never sign such legislation. As a candidate, he eagerly solicited then hungrily devoured campaign cash from trial lawyers, all along expressing his personal opposition to ANY damage caps.

But yet he comes to Madison County, to shatter his word, without a whiff of conscience or remorse.

Moreover, to come and gloat is both tasteless and unnecessary. Sign the bill in Springfield, Governor, if you can remember where it is.

While to the victors belongs the spoils, there is no need to rub our noses in it. But Gov. Rod, driven by the winds of publicity, could not resist the photo op at the Catholic hospital. His personal opposition to caps of any kind and his allergy to integrity apparently collided, and political expediency ruled the day.

Like water flowing from uncupped hands, Gov. Rod has now truly lost himself, perhaps never to be found again. While downstate legislators from Belleville, Collinsville and Alton drafted and helped get the caps bill passed, the final Act in this morality play belongs to the Governor.

And, he has chosen to remain powerless and silent, unwilling to not only keep faith with some of his earliest supporters, but turning his back on the innocent, but powerless who cry for justice.

If he would have been true to his word--his pledge--and vetoed this bill, then his scandal ridden administration would at least have some form of moral center.

The shady deals with relatives, the sweetheart stadium deal with Simmons, nor the nasty feud with father-in-law Dick Mell, none of that would matter, as he would have the clean conscience of a man true to his word. A possible defeat at the polls would hold little fear for the man who kept his word.

But we live in Illinois, and not More’s “Utopia.”

The bill is now law, and will face the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. It may or may not pass Constitutional muster, may or may not be overturned and thrown out entirely.

In any event, Blagojevich is a lost soul, cast adrift in a sea of voters with notoriously short memories. His naked ambition for higher office has blinded him to the truth, simple and plain. He is a model for none, a disgrace to all.

Sir Thomas More kept his faith and integrity at the price of his life. Gov. Rod has lost them both for the sake of a few votes.

Sir Thomas More is a saint in the Catholic Church, a scholar who’s works are still studied by students some 500 years after his death.

Blagojevich will be nothing more than a footnote in the history of Illinois, his grandiose plans betrayed by his spineless shell. Truly, “A Man for No Seasons.”

While this particular battle has been lost, the war still remains winnable.

This however, is my last column on the subject. It is time to move on.

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