Tom Foreman | BIO
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.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with