Guest Column: Rights and responsibilities

We all should agree that a democratic society depends upon the rules of law to maintain order and continuity. Likewise, man must abide by those rules in order to protect basic rights and responsibilities. If we are to ensure the continuation of our system of government, we must elect those representatives who ascribe to those basic tenets and ideals and who will uphold the premises of fairness and honesty in applying those rules.

We are experiencing a dangerous disconnect by many members of the voting public who no longer believe that one vote is of any value because they have lost trust in the ability of elected officials and others in management positions to follow the law and conduct themselves appropriately and legally. This lack of participation makes it easier for the unscrupulous to gain and maintain power. In order to counteract this malaise of spirit, it is essential that those who do choose to exercise their constitutional right to vote select only those who understand this responsibility and remove any who abuse their positions.

We must speak to the problem of nonparticipation in the election process by shouting at those who bring embarrassment on everyone through misuse of their offices and cheering for the heroes who daily uphold the rule of law by doing the right thing whether or not anyone is watching. We must also vigilantly watch to ensure that all officials maintain their integrity and that they not be enticed by power or greed. And we must salute and support those who follow the rules and enforce the laws.

This is everyone’s responsibility, but those in positions of authority must perform in an even more exemplary fashion to become examples for all to strive to follow. We must constantly use those good examples to remind everyone what proper conduct looks like. Only then will we be able to reconnect with those who are opting out of political involvement and strengthen our democratic system through greater participation.

James W. Wagner is president of the Chicago Crime Commission.

From the March 29-April 4, 2006, issue

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