Politicians and public servants

I think people have become so disenchanted with the process; the constant negative (and poorly composed) commercials, the repetition of the same anecdotes and clichés (“I’ll clean up Springfield”), the blind clinging to ideology and inability to see any issue from more than one perspective, the oversimplification where every and any issue is condensed into a sound bite, they just become numb. — Meat

A cynic might say, and there is probably a little bit of truth, that Illinois voters are tired of the slimy politics from both parties, and that there were no high-profile candidates who came across as being outside the Combine, as John Kass calls it, and ready to clean up the mess. Without high-profile candidates committed to the reforms that voters want, there was no reason to vote yesterday.ckfred

Count me among those tired, numb and uninspired voters who cast ballots Tuesday with little expectation of significant change to come as a result.

Count my brother, too. He’s increasingly cynical about government across the board. Getting nailed by a red-light camera didn’t help matters, of course, but in general his attitude is “throw the bums out and let’s start all over.”

Throw the bums out.  While that option may have its appeal, it will serve no purpose if we replace them with another group of bums — politicians more interested in stroking their egos, scamming the system and serving their personal interests than the public good.

Unfortunately, this has become the familiar face of politics in our country.  Politics. Even the word (n.sing the science of government) has taken on the sheen of something oily and crass. Maybe because most practitioners of the art have long since stopped even trying to act like public servants.

Politicians and public servants, they’re worlds apart. And as far as I’m concerned, only the public servants can save us now.

Mind you, no one is the perfect public servant and political skills aren’t something to disdain. However, in mulling my choices between now and November — and in preparation for casting a local ballot in April 2011 — I’m going to pay close attention to where my candidates fall on the Public Servant — Politician continuum. Feel free to suggest additional contrasting qualities.

  • A public servant is the same person to your face, behind your back, on the public stage and in a private e-mail. A politician presents as many faces as are necessary to achieve his/her personal agenda.
  • A public servant comfortably tolerates a wide diversity of opinion, even when those opinions conflict with his/her own. A politician will dispute, bully or attack those who hold an opposing view.
  • A public servant understands that government is a collaborative effort. A politician thinks it’s an us-against-them game that isn’t won until the opposition is crushed.
  • A public servant is willing to serve — for a time, at the public’s pleasure. A politician is already salivating over the next step up the ladder and will tailor his/her ideology and message with that in mind.
  • A public servant is committed to transparency in government, realizing that it fosters public participation and open deliberation. A politician prefers to control public access to the process, divvying out information as it suits his/her purpose.
  • A public servant speaks honestly from the heart and the head. A politician speaks in sound bites, tailored to the audience at hand.
  • A public servant is open to the vox populi wherever he/she finds it: letters, phone calls, social media, blogs.  A politician attempts to limit the approved channels of public communication while utilizing those same channels him/herself.
  • A public servant realizes he/she serves the greater good.  A politician’s first priority is the interest groups and backers he/she serves.
  • A public servant is inclusive. A politician promotes a partisan culture of dedicated insiders and derided outsiders.
  • A public servant understands that grudges and vendettas are a waste of time and detrimental to public confidence. A politician uses grudges and vendettas to solidify his/her power base.
  • A public servant believes in the art of compromise. A politician believes in the superiority of his/her ideology.
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17 Responses to “Politicians and public servants”
  1. sue carroll 4 February 2010 at 11:50 am #

    I couldn’t agree more. I have voted the opposite of my usual political party on more than one occasion because I felt that candidate had the public’s interest, not his own, at heart.

    Government is supposed to serve the people, not serve as a battleground. To use a football analogy, republicans and democrats aren’t supposed to be separate teams — they’re supposed to be teamates who might disagree about what play to call.

  2. Not Sure 4 February 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    I love that analogy.

  3. AJ 4 February 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    Great list Elaine. As a foreigner I don’t get to vote (either here or in my native country), but I do hate the way the pol’s are wasting so much time and effort without changing things for the better. There is absolutely no “science” in modern politics.

    Hopefully a number of readers will be interested in http://www.callaconvention.org/ which is Professor Lawrence Lessig’s call to reduce the need for pol’s to spend so much time raising money for re-election that it affects their ability to do their jobs (and puts their partiality into question, no matter what party they’re from).

  4. B.H.W. 4 February 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    A public servant understands they are donating their time, while holding down a career.

    A public servant believes in term limits, politicians don’t.

  5. HS 4 February 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Very well thought-out and organized!

    Agree with meat’s quote at the beginning too. Seems like every commercial has:

    ” I can reach across both sides of the aisle. My opponent hates the troops. I have experience and I’m an outsider who can bring real change. I’ll clean up corruption and lower your taxes. My opponent likes Hugo Chavez and wants to burn the flag. I care about families – my opponent doesn’t. My opponent…what was he thinking?! My opponent looks a lot like Rod Blagojevich – just look at these photos! I’ll be tough on crime, while my opponent wants to open up the doors at Stateville and let them all out into your neighborhoods to threaten your families…did I mention that I support families? I will eliminate all of your taxes and cut waste…Vote for me for real change….”

    I find it a bit annoying when you go into a candidate’s website and they don’t even have a detailed list of where they stand on issues. And you need to go into their sites sometimes because the newspapers and TV broadcasts don’t – not often enough, anyway – present detailed point-by-point summaries of where each candidate stands on every issue.

  6. Chad D. Walz 4 February 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    If we had term limits like the Presidency we all would be better off and maybe we would get public servants instead of self servants.

    Here would be an example of a bill I would like to see brought before congress.

    Term limits:

    Federal – no more than 8 yrs in office.
    President – 2 (same as current)
    Senate – 2
    House – 2 (would change term to 4 from 2)

    I would change the house term to 4 years so they can stop campaigning and legislate for once.

    State and local levels same, no more than 8 years in office in one elected office. Just my take on it.

    Problem is there is NO politician with enough guts to introduce such legislation.

  7. Elaine Johnson 4 February 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    What do you know, Chad? We agree on something (else) :) Great thoughts, all, folks, but special props to Sue for that excellent sports analogy.

  8. Earl "Open Ballot in Illinois Primary?" 4 February 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    United States Government “… is a constitutional republic and representative democracy’” per Wikipedia. Just trying to clarify an early remark I made about democracy. I think an open ballot in the Illinois primary would encourage more voters to come to the ballots to cast their vote. On the other hand I never see Illinois ever doing that, some powerful counties in our state might just lose their political party strength.

  9. DoctorJ 5 February 2010 at 1:01 am #

    Best thread ever EJ. The Doctor will be back tomorrow. This topic is fantastic. Your audience awaits you.

    PS Bloggers – watch HBOs “John Adams” if you can to see how pathetic we have been. Evolution is slow/not-so-good

  10. Elaine Johnson 5 February 2010 at 9:26 am #

    I felt the same way after watching “John Adams.” Almost incredulous that our founding fathers made such sacrifices to establish this nation. Another good one: “1776,” which is another McCullough book. The part about Henry Knox — a young bookseller — hauling 60 tons worth of cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston is an amazing testament to courage and dedication to a seemingly unachievable cause. *Goosebumps*

  11. DoctorJ 5 February 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Interesting that the minute the US got political parties (right after Washington’s presidency), many of the public servants that created this democracy turned into politicians. Jefferson and Adams turned from deeply respectful friends (with differing points of view) to bitter enemies during their respective presidencies. Only later in life did their friendship rekindle. If you ever have the chance, I recommend seeing a stage play that outlines the lifelong relationships between Jefferson and Adams (including Abigail). Have seen this in Williamsburg, VA with their local Jefferson character and the Adams characters (John and Abigail) from Boston. It uses their correpondence to weave a story of public servants who became politicians before reconciling — a very poignant story.

    Interesting to note that John Quincy Adams (John’s son) eventually became President but was ineffective due to political bickering. He is the only US President that served in the Congress (the House) after his term in the White House. He probably accomplished more as a Representative than as President, and didn’t let the bickering ever sway his ideals. THAT is a public servant.

  12. Earl 5 February 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    What I meant to say was open primary not open ballot, so that the voter does not have to commit to one political party.

  13. Julie Devine 5 February 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Great post. I was dismayed after the primaries. Some great candidates lost simply because they didn’t have the same funding to get their message out. It’s a shame. What I would love to see happen will never happen…

    I’d love it if when people headed to the polls, there were no official parties, and no names on the ballot. Instead, there would Candidate 1, 2, 3, etc. and 5 bullet points or answers to outstanding issues. People would vote for the candidate whose answers they agreed with the most. No candidate names; no parties; just the issues. And no need for the ridiculous waste of money spent on political campaigns. Candidates elected based on their merits and stances; not how much money their campaign had, political endorsements, etc.

  14. eirosie 7 February 2010 at 12:24 am #

    Awesome! I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with your comparison. We so need more public servants.

  15. Brother Mark 7 February 2010 at 8:16 am #

    NIce Blog E and thanks for the quote. The only point I would add is that the political process is always evolving — and thus what is needed from leadership (which is what we are suppose to be electing on our behalf) changes over time. Today our governments are huge by any sort of historical reckoning and have taken on all sorts of causes leaving taxpayers today little more than Surfs laboring to support the State. This is backward and the kiss of death — just look at Europe. In the past 10 years government has “created” more jobs than the private sector and today, federal non-military jobs pay 2x what the average citizen makes. The powerful public unions have insulated government from any meaningful form of productivity increases even as the private sector aggressively, continually restructures. The real weight of government gets heavier every year for taxpayers — even though deficit spending at the federal level and devaluing the currency by the mysterious Federal Reserve hide the immediate impact. The unfunded public sector retirement programs are enormous and excessively compensate our “public servants”. Teachers retiring with a pension that is the equivalent of more than $1mm in a private sector 401k is laughable for a 9 month a year job! Sorry teachers, but it is the truth!

    This year our Federal government will spend $3.5 trillion dollars and take in about $2 trillion in taxes., tacking another $1.5 trillion on to our unsustainable debt which will soon reach $14 trillion. The gov’t is buying its own issuance to keep rates low despite the overwhelming supply of government IOUs hitting the market. Our social security taxes are immediately spent and each year gov’t IOU’s are dropped into the lock box — a strategy that is unsustainable as we rapidly approach that point when more boomers retire than pay in.

    The way out this time is to radically reduce government across the board. By introducing term limits, reducing the honey pot for those serving, dramatically reducing the engagement of our government in our lives, and simplifying taxes and regulation — the interests of the public will be met. The path we are on is so off kilter — small changes are nearly meaningless. As an economics professor once told me…”just because the private sector does not handle a situation particularly well — what assurance is there that government involvement will make matters better”? Our public servants need to humbly acknowledge the limits of government before launching ever more complicated initiatives.

  16. Chad D. Walz 7 February 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Thank you Brother Mark, more people need to understand your comments. It is the only way our union will survive. Right now we have class warfare and that has never ended well, just read the history books!

  17. Brother Mark 7 February 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    Thank you Chad–I appreciate the comment and share Elaine’s disdain for politicians vs. statesmen and women. During the recent election, I got a kick out of the elected official that would do something about employment by sponsoring job fairs! A nice thought– but why would a company want to locate more jobs in Illinois right now? Labor follows capital not the other way around. A “chicken in every pot populism” sounds sweet to the hungry– but as an economic model it leads to fewer and fewer chickens if you have to tax the hen houses to pay for it…