For over 33 years, I served proudly as a “public servant” with the Federal government. I rose through the GS ranks with the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) before ending my career as a member of the Senior Executive Service in leadership with CMS. I had a wonderful career with great responsibilities which I took very seriously.
It’s easy to take potshots at government workers believing that they were only there for the paycheck and that they did not care about the quality or quantity of their work. It’s been my experience that most people who like to repeat such stereotypical negative statements generally never worked with the government. They can often point at some negative experiences they had at the DMV, etc. and generalize that all government employees are bad. That’s a bit unfair. I’ve run into bad service in both the private and public sectors, but that doesn’t mean that everyone everywhere is a bad employee. Such generalizations do not serve our collective good.
There are many accomplishments of my career on which I look back fondly. I was blessed to have been in positions that allowed me to be a positive force towards improving customer service in Medicare. I worked hard to make things better for all people because I knew that was the role of the government.
The true role of government is to free us to live our greatest lives in peace and happiness, free from harm by others. Government should assist in creating the environment in which we can all thrive. Living our greatest lives means that our government should be committed to serving the public, not the public serving the government.
Libertarians and Public Service
Now I recognize that a growing number of people like to call themselves “libertarians” under the belief that the smallest government is the best government. They like to quote Ronald Reagan and his famous line from his first inauguration, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” and say “let’s get rid of the government”. Of course, they tend to forget that the full quote starts with “In this present crisis….” Reagan was not for eliminating all government as they would like to believe. In fact, government actually grew under Reagan.
No government would be anarchy. Some government is necessary. Even Libertarians agree. If you go to the Libertarian Party website, there is much that sounds reasonable there. I agree that I do not want the government spying on me or invading my privacy, for example. I agree with their stance on decriminalizing drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes. However, I do think that we need to have such governmental services as those that keep us safe (air traffic control for safe flights, the CDC to study illnesses and put in steps to protect us from harm). I disagree with their positions that the so-called “free market” is the solution to everything. There is plenty of evidence that some constraints on bad market actors is needed by an effective government.
My differences with their platform is in the details, not the general vision of keeping government within the bounds of what is reasonable. Those differences are beyond the scope of this article. My bottom line is that there is a distinct and important role for government in our lives, a role that with proper leadership can serve to make all of our lives better. That is what true and effective “public service” is.
Elected Officials and Public Service
Public service extends to our elected officials as well. Our congresspersons, our President, our Supreme Court justices are all public servants and they should put that aspect of their role at the front of what they do while they are in their jobs. As Plato pointed out in The Republic, the best government is run by people with the right training and who take their leadership roles seriously.
In a recent blog by conservative writer Michael Charney, he offers his reasons for why he is leaving the Republican Party. It’s not because Donald Trump is their Presidential nominee. Rather, it’s because he has watched as their “former public servants have for years morphed into party servants”. He is referring to those individuals who were elected as Republicans to serve America and Americans as true “public servants” but have lost their vision and purpose. They now erroneously see their roles as “party servants” who can use their positional authority to further the goals and success of the political party even when it is not in the best interest of the country. One can make the case that the same has occurred to a lot of Democrats as well.
Our political parties are human inventions — simply tools — tools that can lead to a give and take on different positions and opinions so that we organically grow towards decisions and actions that reflect the best of all of our thinking. The political parties are not an end onto themselves. In fact, it would not serve us in moving to the highest and best options if one party were to totally dominate our government. We need reasoned discussion. We need compromise. We need to consider the needs and thoughts of all. Those who serve their party over their truly larger public service role are ultimately harming us.
It’s time for those who have placed their political parties and positions above the needs of our country to either change their minds and actions….or be voted out. It’s time for all our public servants to serve us once again. Our country and our lives are crying for the return of the statesmen who value their public service to all the people, no exceptions.
The time is now.