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Sen. Tom Harkin

Sen. Tom Harkin

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Unsung Heroes: Recognizing Our Public Servants

Posted: 05/ 6/11 10:39 AM ET

They will probably never see their names in lights or walk on a red carpet, but our public servants -- from police officers to firefighters, from sanitation crews to social security personnel, from teachers to postal workers -- are the unsung heroes of our communities. They have dedicated their careers to making our lives better, and for that, they deserve our respect and gratitude. Therefore, I call on my colleagues and friends all over the country to take a moment during this Public Service Recognition Week (May 1-7) to honor those who dedicate their lives to the greater good.

Throughout our history, some of our most storied leaders have recognized the important role a robust civil service plays in crafting a great nation, and both political parties have a long tradition of encouraging young men and women to enter public service.

President Kennedy, for example, was a forceful advocate for public service. It has been 50 years, but I can still remember the words he spoke during his first state of the union address just 10 days after taking office:

"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.'"

Like so many before him, President Kennedy inspired a generation of young men and women to enter public service at the federal, state, and local level, and we are a better nation for it.

But times have changed, and there is a disturbing new breed of elected official that has decided to play politics by scapegoating hardworking American who serve the public good. Opportunists in Wisconsin, my home state of Iowa, and across the country are now attacking public sector workers blaming them for our fiscal woes.

However, the arguments they make are all smoke and mirrors. The truth is that our public servants are not to blame for the fiscal predicament that some states find themselves in. That was caused by the financial crisis, and we can hardly blame teachers, firefighters, sanitation crews or social security personnel for that.

Some seem to forget that our public servants are hardworking, middle-class people. They are our friends and neighbors, and no good can come from attacking them. It just distracts us from the real economic challenges facing middle class families who are finding it harder and harder to put a roof over their heads, gas in the tank and food on the table.

For the good of the country, it is time to stop trying to tear people down and start having an adult conversation about the future of the American middle class. We need to put policies in place that build real economic security for working families. Everyone deserves to earn decent wages and benefits and have the opportunity for a safe and secure retirement. And everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect on the job -- especially the public servants who work to make all our lives better.

Fortunately, Public Service Recognition Week presents a real opportunity for leaders on both sides of the aisle to show their support for our public servants. There have been events in communities all over the country honoring our local heroes, and I am hopeful that, even in this time of budget battles and election season posturing, everyone can take a few minutes before the week is over to recognize the important contributions that these hardworking people make to our families, our communities, and our nation.