Nameless, Faceless Public Servants
Here in America, we’ve been getting ready for the presidential election this fall. The news has been dominated by a long list of Republican and Democratic candidates who have engaged in a seemingly-endless series of debates. It’s an ugly process, and it’s been that way from the very beginning. Although our first president, George Washington, was highly respected, our second president, John Adams, was ridiculed in the papers and lied about by the other candidates, including his friend Thomas Jefferson. There has never been a time when American politics was carried on politely. It makes me wonder why anyone has ever sought the top spot.
But it’s not the presidency that I want to talk about today. Rather, I want to point out that a democratic republic such as ours employs large numbers of public servants, and it is those government employees who keep things running properly. We elect only a very small number of the public servants in this country; there are many, many more government employees who are appointed or hired. The more I think about God in the workplace, the more I appreciate the unsung heroes of government: the people who serve us from day to day but are largely unknown to us.
Consider, for example, the support staff of each member of Congress. Recently I talked with a Michigan State University student who was working as an intern in Lansing, which is not only the home of Michigan State but is also the state capital. She was working for a member of Michigan’s House of Representatives, and her job description was varied and interesting. She researched issues for her boss and wrote up her findings, to help him decide how to vote on proposals brought before the House. She went through his mail and wrote some of his replies. She kept him current on voters’ attitudes about various issues. He, of course, is the one who’s in the news; his name is the one everybody knows. But behind every well-known politician is a staff of people like this intern, and much depends on how well they do their jobs.
Speech writers are another fascinating example. In the 1980s, Peggy Noonan left a job with Dan Rather at CBS to become a speech writer for President Ronald Reagan. (Can you imagine a more unconventional career path than that?) In her book, What I Saw at the Revolution, she explains why speech writing for the president is a thankless job: because the president’s advisers are constantly engaged in turf wars with the speech writers, accusing them of trying to make policy. The speech writers, meanwhile, feel that the president’s advisers are trying to tell them how to write. For Peggy Noonan, at least, it was about more than just politics; it was about the power of words and how they can be used or misused, how they can communicate or obfuscate. (Peggy Noonan, by the way, is the person who came up with President Bush’s “thousand points of light.”)
These are just two examples of the vast numbers of public servants who keep our government running. They have important work to do, and they work hard for us. It seems to me that we focus entirely too much on a few people in top positions, but our government is the way it is because of all of those nameless, faceless people who support them. If you don’t mind a little homework, why not do some research of your own? Why not search the internet search for behind-the-scenes positions within government (preferably on the local, county, or state level, rather than on the federal level) and try to get a clearer picture of the wide variety of public servants there actually are out there?