A Call for Letters from the Chicago Tribune
February 12, 2006
In This Issue:
- A Call for Letters from the Chicago Tribune
A Call for Letters from the Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune wants to know what its readers think about public corruption in Illinois. Because Spotcheck subscribers are some of the best informed on the topic,we hope you'll take a few minutes to give your opinion and suggest ways to curb corruption. If you need food for thought, you'll find a smorgasbord of information at www.ilcampaign.org.
But you don't have much time. The Tribune intends to print responses in Tuesday's newspaper, and your thoughts must be sent by e-mail to the Tribune by 4 p.m. Monday. Just address your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and put the word "corruption" in the subject line of your e-mail.
The text of Sunday's Tribune editorial (Feb. 12, 2006) is below.
When the game turns deadly
Published February 12, 2006
Democracies survive on one premise: trust. Each of us votes for the candidates we trust to do what's best for our city, our county, our state. Sure, we tolerate some preening; we know that, as a group, politicians love the limelight. But the officials we elect, and the public employees they hire, inherit our trust--that they will serve our needs, that they will protect the neediest among us, that they will act with honor in our name. That trust is why we can function as a free and vibrant society. It's why we sleep at night.
Public corruption humiliates that trust. That security. And yet in Illinois, we cynically chortle, 'twas ever thus. That is a shame. Our shame. Because crimes that give some among us perverse pride have cost others among us their lives.
Whoever first took a bribe for selling an Illinois driver's license to an unqualified trucker, and shunted a cut of the booty into a secretary of state's campaign fund, must have smiled with serene pride at the circularity of the scheme: Today's power begets lucre, which begets tomorrow's power. For millions of Illinoisans, though, the humor evaporated along with the lives of the nine people killed in crashes that involved drivers using ill-gotten Illinois licenses. When the game turned deadly--when clout and corruption incinerated six children in one fiery crash--then the Illinois culture of political sleaze was no longer such a wry laugh line. A populace said that's enough. A governor left in disgrace.
Not that a corruption scandal needs a body count to inflict its harm. By its nature, each scandal prompts questions from the rest of us--questions that betray our damaged faith:
- When a police officer sells protection to drug dealers, he tarnishes not only his badge, but also the badges of other officers who must endure our suspicion: "Whose side are they on?" Those other officers may be incorruptible. No matter. The damage is done. Our trust shrinks. Ever so slightly, our democratic system constricts.
- When a public official hires employees from a patronage list, he cheats countless other people of an opportunity to compete for the job. When he steers a contract to a crony, he invites us to ask, "Whose wheel gets greased next?"
- And when phony "minorities" land public work, minority businesspeople who play by the rules cannot help but ask, "Why bother?"
That is the most insidious question of the lot. Corruption fosters apathy. People withdraw from civic life--or, worse, never engage. They think the system is rigged. This is why professional sports such as baseball have severe penalties for gambling. Because if fans think the fix is in, then baseball becomes mere pro wrestling. Nobody believes. And nobody cares.
That disinterest in governance is too high a price for us to pay for corruption at City Hall, at the County Building, at the Statehouse. From one headline after another, citizens are learning an uncomfortable truth: Too often in Illinois, paying one's taxes amounts to funding a criminal enterprise.
Which is why so many Illinoisans owe such a debt to one group of public officials: the investigators and prosecutors now working to eradicate the culture of political sleaze. From their work, if they succeed, comes a new Illinois. From their work comes restored trust.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Why does public corruption flourish in Illinois? E-mail us by 4 p.m. Monday at email@example.com with "corruption" in the subject line. Include your name, hometown and contact information. Responses will be published online and in Tuesday's Voice of the people.