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.

Is a hospital employee not a public servant because he works for a health company? How about a minister? What about someone who picks up our garbage but happens to be with a company that contracts to do that work for the county? It seems to me that they are all public servants; at least as much as some guy sitting in the DMV asking me what I weigh.

Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the work of police officers, teachers, public health officials and the like. And some of them certainly seem dedicated to serving the public. But I’ve found just as many people interested in doing that in the private sector.

To put it simply, I think “public servant” is a label that is mainly about politics, not about communication. And while government workers should not be seen as less worthy or less important than the rest of us, I’m not sure they should be served up on a pedestal either.

Hope this finds you well, enjoying your weekend. Call if you can.


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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. J.V.Hodgson

    Tom, gosh find my self in agreement largely with you here but I think in terms of "government employee" and "Public servant" it's all about spin and not really important.
    To me however if you are paid either directly or indirectly by state authorities or federal agencies or departments then you are whichever of those labels you personally choose to use.
    The problem is that in many cases those at the very top of government, I mean House Representatives and Senators generically are paid by us voters ( we the people) to manage and perform government processes effectively and constitutionally. ( Remember the SCOTUS role in that please.)
    I see nothing in that which allows them to even begin to threaten to "shutdown the government"or worse still be theonly ones who would continue to be paid everything and all thier benefits. we pay them to govern not shut down for petty ideological difference on either side.
    I want them to come up with serious alternatives on anything debate them fully openly and fairly and then vote and the majority wins. And stop all this foul play and bending the rules.

    February 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  2. Shirl Beattie

    I have a question! Why doesn't the media ask the Congress to cut their salary since they are the only ones with a big raise recently.
    They are draining the government big bucks with all of their salary, lodging, offices, personal employees, etc. Not one person has presented that suggestion. And all the talk about is cutting the poor old boys out here who live on 1/3 or less than what they do.
    Under Republican admin. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Boy that saying has been around a long time and they are certainly fulfilling that now.

    February 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Sherry Thomas

    Many have lost jobs, homes, cars, utilities...their lives. States have made cuts, have laid off employees, have borrowed beyond their ability to repay. With all of this economic mess swwirling around all of us, I wrote President Obama and asked that he consider cutting the wages of federal employees by 10 percent. To me, that seems like a small amount compared to the disaster that is happening to the rest of us. I recieved a letter back thanking me for my suggestion. Why, I ask has this idea not been considered and talked about?

    February 20, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  4. shirlene

    Tom, thank for the letter. Most jobs are for a public good. We just don't rely on the government(citizen taxpayers) to support us after we retice at age 50 with med benefits.

    Another worry. Two Iranian warships went through Suez Canal on their way to Syria. What is up?

    February 20, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  5. fouad fahsi

    mr anderson from the bottom of my heart i want to thank you on behaf of all arab people for exposing the truth behind the dictatorship that arabs endure for decades.i am from morocco , casablanca and i live in the usa for 15 years , very pleased about the uprising in the arab world it s about time . again thank you anderson so much for puting the truth out there .

    February 20, 2011 at 6:42 am |
  6. Aziza Junifer Megrissi

    Thank you Anderson Cooper for again shedding light on the situation in Libya. Thank you for standing up and fighting to give us a voice
    Please keep it going. We need your help in Libya

    Thank you, thank you ,thank you soooooo much

    February 20, 2011 at 3:27 am |
  7. Aliou, Jacksonville, FL

    I have respect for all workers. When one worker is in pain, we are all mourning. When the rights of one worker is taken away, all our rights are taken, because each time, it starts with one,then it takes all of us.

    It is time big business takes some of the pain itself. You can't put the burden of this crisis created by wall street and big speculators on our workers alone. Let big business cut profits. Some of the profits we see announced each quarter in this country while we are in an economic crisis are insane.
    So where is their part of the sacrifice? Where is Big ceo's share of the national sacrifice?

    February 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  8. Stuart Vogel

    Teachers get back to work. Democrats get back to Wisconsin. Let the governor do what the millions of voters elected him to do, stop spending money we don't have.

    February 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  9. shirlene

    Tom wrote a great letter. Thank you. As for teachers, private school teachers do a better job. We taxpayers are paying around %8000 to %10000 per student, and the education system is failing.

    Children need to get the best education thay can and that means private schools like our president attended. If our government would use that money to allow more private school education both our children and our country's fiscal health would improve.


    February 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  10. Rachel

    Where is all the reporting on the Middle East? Government shut down in the US or what? These protests directly affect us, so tell the idiots that are ignorant about Middle East History and Prophecy to go watch cartoons if they don't like it!!! We need to know what's going on, especially with our beloved Isreal!!!

    February 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  11. *bob

    in wisconson? your a southern american from the states, well im northern american from canada. i learn in history that people in the past have fought to make this world a better place for every one (EVERY ONE), not just people with money, and not people without.

    fact is, the united states influinces canada alot with trades and everything else, one state is just as important as the next. like im pissed off at how things are. like i cant think of words to describe.

    we kinda need change, its afact; we really do. and i swear things will be just getting worse. why? Cuz nobody will step up and take controll and change things.

    "you dont have to be the whole stair case, but you can be the first step", (Canada). if you have people, i mean by people; people like your previos presidents, who work so hard to make a difference. (not bush) but others from the past. like in canada, (makensi king), and others... when they try so hard to make the world a better place, it takes one man to screw it all up. but you can be the first step to something that in the ernd is much bigger then just your self.

    and im telling ya now, if your a person who just thinks about your self and not others then WaW you got me, cuz i thought that just maybe just maybe youd be a man that someone could trust to put out the word. because no body else will. and i dont know why. it cant be just me thinking this.

    February 19, 2011 at 11:26 am |