Steve Chapman

Showing contempt for the people who elected you, of course, is not a Republican invention. Clinton treated the White House travel office as a subsidiary of his political family, sacking veteran employees to give business to a company run by cronies. And that episode with Monica Lewinsky -- well, it wouldn't have happened had Clinton kept in mind that he was a guest in the White House, not the owner.

A few Chicago cops also made the same mistake of thinking they are masters of the public rather than servants. One off-duty officer, Anthony Abbate, got drunk and was videotaped kicking and beating a female bartender who refused to quench his thirst. His fellow officers took a month to arrest him, exhibiting a nonchalance they do not show when a bartender beats up a cop.

If that weren't enough, when Abbate showed up for his court hearing, a vigilant commander on the scene decided that the greatest law enforcement needs in the city at that moment were 1) to keep reporters out, and 2) to decorate their cars with parking tickets.

To his credit, Police Superintendent Philip Cline apologized, vowed to change the way these things are handled and demoted the commander. But cops shouldn't need to be told that, off duty as well as on, they have a duty not to abuse their position of trust.

Sometimes that obligation is lost on the lowest and the highest public employees. They might all do well to start each day by reading the Constitution to remind themselves of the foundation of our system of government. Not the whole thing, just the first three words: We the People.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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