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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
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Public Service -- Patriots or Freeloaders?


Over the last 12 years, the good people at the Gallup Poll have at eight different times asked the same question: "Who do you regard as the greatest United States president?" Each time, one of three presidents — Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan — has finished first.

While the Gipper and JFK were both Irish-American contemporaries (Reagan was six years older) — each with a love of language, an infectious optimism and mastery of self-effacing humor — they were poles apart in their appraisals of the federal government and of those who chose to work for it.

Contrast the following presidential statements: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." Plus: "The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them away." — Reagan

"Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: 'I served the United states government in that hour of our nation's need.'" — Kennedy

Make no mistake about the dominant rhetorical perspective today. Reagan's "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem," and, "When you go to bed with the federal government, you get more than a good night's sleep," is more widely popular and accepted than is the discomforting Kennedy challenge to view and to choose public service as a truly noble pursuit or JFK's now-dated summons to "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

You know the drill.

The vaunted private sector is efficient and competitive and tough, while the disparaged public sector has become a political pinata.

So how do we explain the near-universally praised and admired courage of Navy SEAL Team 6, which went on the most dangerous of missions in the dead of night halfway around the world into an armed enemy stronghold? These men and all their comrades are exceptional professionals and proven patriots. But every Navy SEAL, every Marine squad leader, every combat medic, every helicopter pilot is also a public servant. That's right, a public employee.

Next time, you hear your local know-nothing mouthing off about how people on a public payroll just couldn't make it in the private sector, please interrupt and ask him exactly which men and women in uniform in which God-forgotten valley of death in Afghanistan are in it for the paycheck.

Why hasn't business lured away such exceptionally courageous and talented individuals with signing bonuses or unlimited expense accounts? Don't tell me U.S. companies do not need individuals with the unique combinations of discipline, leadership, fortitude and intelligence. Could it be instead that these are Americans who truly do care more about what they can do for their country than for what the Fortune 500 could do for their personal net worth?

Let us understand that the effectiveness of our government and, to a considerable degree, the success of our nation depends upon the quality and the commitment of our citizens who determine to make public service — military or civilian — and the common good larger than their own self-interest. Aren't you glad that the heroes of Navy SEAL Team 6 were "from the government" and were there "to help"?

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
Let's be careful here.

The Navy SEALs involved in the operation numbered 80 in all, and outnumbered the people guarding the compound. Each one was much better trained and better equipped than the Kalashnikov wielding tribals guarding Osama's mansion.

The high tech equipment and gear used in the operation was produced by private industry. The government, in this case, was merely a consumer and spender, while the production was of a private contractor.

This is not to diminish the seriousness of the work of Navy SEALs. They are involved in a job where mistake will cost their best friend's life.

On the other hand, a public school teacher suffers no emotional loss, no financial loss, no personal loss from turning out a bad student who fails school. And for every bad student churned out, more incentive is given to put more money into the given teacher's school. They are essentially subsidised and rewarded for failure.

A public school teacher is not a Navy SEAL.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Prateek Sanjay
Sat May 14, 2011 7:52 AM
Navy SEALS, many time enter private life. They are highly sought after and well paid. The problem with liberal/progressive/socialist/marxists is that they "pound the drum" beat their chests" and "spike the football" whereas Navy Seals are confident enough in themselves to live quit, unassuming lives.
Comment: #2
Posted by: David Henricks
Sat May 14, 2011 9:07 AM
Yes, SEALs don't seek publicity and have no use for posturing. But don't brand my fellow liberal Commies for beating their chests. I haven't seen Pres. Obama landing in a fighter jet on a carrier to stand in front of a huge "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner. That's the sort of thing a clownish shitkicker might do.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Steven Doyle
Sat May 14, 2011 10:35 AM
I taught for many years, and I wonder where the writer got the idea that a teacher doesn't suffer when a student fails. There can be financial loss; there is certainly emotional pain. I think that this latest joyride on teachers' backs are from people who haven't the vaguest idea of what it's like.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Phyllis Berger
Sat May 14, 2011 9:03 PM
Is it true that California has over 5000 retired teachers, each drawing $100,000.00 per year in pensions?

Nice work (sic) if you can get it....just sayin....
Comment: #5
Posted by: Soothsayer
Sun May 15, 2011 12:34 AM
I agree with Ms. Berger. Lately the small minded seem to think they can generalize about a group of people with impunity. They disgust me. I spent four years at an elementary school observing teachers working with students. They impressed me with their dedication. I envision a sad future for America if this witch hunt continues - a culture of ignorant, frightened, mean spirited, narcissists.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Kelley J Miller
Tue May 17, 2011 8:44 PM
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