February 19th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #761 'Exactly who is a public servant?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The president has criticized budget cutting measures in Wisconsin as being aimed at the union that represents a lot of public servants.

Dear Mr. President,

With all the noise up in Wisconsin, I keep hearing a phrase being tossed around that makes me a little uneasy: public servant. I know that lots of people say it. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard you lob it up in some speeches. (Of course, I also spent several years convinced that I’d seen Bigfoot, so…)

When people say “public servant,” I think they mean “government employee.” But of course “public servant” sounds better, especially if you are trying to protect the jobs of those “government employees.”

However, with respect to people who work for the government (and, no kidding, I have plenty of respect for them) I’m just not convinced that all of them, or even most, are on the job because of a deep, abiding desire to serve the public. I think they, like most people in most jobs, are there primarily to get a paycheck. And the mere fact that their check comes from the government doesn’t elevate them to some pantheon of goodness above everyone else who works to make our society function.