Former Attorney General John Mitchell, whose tainted tenure at the U.S. Justice Department in the Nixon Administration is now being replicated by Alberto Gonzales, once chided the press to "Watch what we do, not what we say." I thought of that the other day when one of the Washington, D.C., newspapers included an insert celebrating Public Service Recognition Week. There, on page two of the insert, was a perfectly cynical letter from President George W. Bush sending "greetings" during this annual week set aside to honor and thank Americans employed in public service.
"America is a vibrant force for freedom and prosperity, and our public servants are one of our Nation's greatest assets," Bush writes. "I appreciate public servants for your diligence and commitment to service. Your good works reflect the best of our country, and our Nation benefits from your spirit and leadership."
I am sure that every American involved in public service appreciates the president's words. But words on paper are as cheap as talk. We've been watching him for more than six years now. Never has the White House had an occupant more opposed to public service and more intent on destroying the institutions of government that people rely on for security, safety and support. He's filled the federal government with political appointees of low character and even lower competence, driving outstanding career employees away from their jobs. He's placed political hacks into positions where talent and experience are needed. Just think of what impact his appointees had on FEMA and how his contempt for public services, and the workers who provide them, led to a full-fledged disaster in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Even in an area as important as public safety, the president has been playing politics - remember his threat to veto terrorism legislation if airport screeners were able to join a union? He never misses an opportunity to promote the privatization of public services. When he can't turn over a government responsibility to corporations, he brings the corporations into the government. Oil industry executives are running the Energy Department, polluters are in charge at the Environmental Protection Agency, and companies that gouge students on their loans are setting the rules at the Education Department. We haven't seen this level of corruption in the public sector since Richard Nixon was shown the door and John Mitchell was sent to jail.
When it comes to this president and vital government services, we're following the Mitchell Rule: we're watching what he does, not what he says.