Where are the public servants?

Editor's note: This is a reprint of an Oct. 14, 2011 column. My Roget's Super Thesaurus, copyright 1995, lists "public servant" as the first synonym for "politician." Times have changed. Googling free online dictionaries rendered "schemer, liar, cheat, hypocrite, baby-kisser." One dictionary specified that in the United States, "politician" carries the connotation of "somebody seeking personal power." A free online thesaurus returned this message: "Sorry, I could not find synonyms for 'politician'." Neither can most of us; words fail to describe the dearth of leadership in local, state, and federal government. Where are men and women like our nation's founders who gave up their own ambitions for "we the people"? Where are the equals of George Washington's legendary honesty, Abraham Lincoln's mountain-like presence, Franklin Roosevelt's disregarded physical pain, and Harry Truman's profanity-laced morality? Albert Einstein got it right: "It is high time that the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service." He was expressing the biblical admonition: "The greatest among you will be your servant" (Matthew 23:11).
Too many politicians are too full of themselves. The moment they fill a seat of perceived power, they flaunt it like the newly rich Chinese, recently profiled for embarrassing their government by showing off their excess. These luxury lovers buy elsewhere to avoid high taxes but flash the bling at home. Too many politicians are like insurance salesmen who promise everything when we buy their policies, then go to war with us or cancel us out if we make a claim. Too many politicians share the views expressed by scientists and economists who blame the world's troubles on overpopulation. Sheer human numbers make some cry out "unsustainable" when they ought to offer help. Education and contraception are needed, but if the people are already here, they know and we know there is enough for us all. Too many politicians are too partisan. Money and re-election are uppermost in their minds. A recent Associated Press report warns that Congress' dysfunction has reached critical status: "At the core of this gridlock is a steadily growing partisanship." Our 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes, wrote: "He serves his party best who serves the country best." Current activist and political commentator Donna Brazile said: "Last time I checked, God is above this partisan stuff." Too many politicians use religion for convenience. We don't want to hear, "I'll pray about that." We don't believe them anyway. We want action. An old adage says it, "Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisors." There are examples of walking the walk. Larry Powell, Superintendent of Schools in Fresno, Calif., was profiled in August [2011] for doing the unthinkable: taking less than the salary of a first-year teacher and giving back to his community $800,000 for the next three years. Powell, 63, says he has already built a good retirement: "How much do we need to keep accumulating? There's no reason for me to keep stockpiling money." Action like that rekindles hope that public servants can still be found. Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.