"Nothing more important" than a government job....
That headline on the Drudge Report today caught my attention. It was boxed with and just below another item, "Obama Tells Companies to 'Step Up' and Hire Workers." The obvious implication was that President Obama thinks there is no job more important than working for the government.
One small problem -- the President didn't say that; he didn't even imply it. The closest he came was when he said that there is "nothing more important than working on behalf of the American people." He was responding to a pregnant woman who told him that she was about to be laid off from her job at the National Zoo in Washington and explained what the impact of the layoff was on her and her family. Finally, she asked him what he would do in her position.
The President responded to her in exactly the same way any executive of a large organization would respond in a similar situation -- assuming, of course, that the executive was a competent leader. Imagine that the worker about to be laid off worked in a warehouse in a large company, and she asked the question of the CEO. Change a few words, and that's the answer the worker would probably get.
Drudge packaged the item with a misleading headline link, which led to a Real Clear Politics article that included the video and described the incident as follows:
President Obama responds to a woman who was laid off from her government job: "Let me just first of all say that workers like you, for the federal, state, and local governments, are so important for our vital services. And it frustrates me sometimes when people talk about 'government jobs' as if somehow those are worth less than private sector jobs. I think there is nothing more important than working on behalf of the American people."
Not as misleading as Drudge, but absent the context, it's still not a fair report of what Obama said and why he said it. Watch the video and judge for yourself.
I've worked with many civilian government employees of different departments, employees at all levels from secretaries to members of the senior executive service. I've also directly supervised civilian employees at all those levels. I share the President's frustration that many people consider government employees to be lazy, incompetent, overpaid drones who contribute little for grossly inflated salaries and benefits. In fact, that isn't true.
I've also worked with and supervised many private sector employees, and guess what? Just like government employees, some are excellent, hard-working, dedicated people, and some aren't. I'd be hard-pressed to say which type is more commonly found in either sector.
However, the negative description of public sector employees fits the conservative narrative and furthers that agenda, so that's the one that predominates in the conservative media.
I don't support employing more people than are needed, creating unnecessary barriers to disciplining or firing employees, tolerating incompetence or inefficiency, and unionization to a counterproductive extent. I don't support any of those things in the public sector or in the private sector. And I'll add this: Some of the most difficult issues of this kind I've ever had to deal with was when I was director of administration for a telecommunications company in the private sector.
What we have in this case is a clear example of conservative bias in the media -- the Drudge Report and, to a lesser degree, Real Clear Politics. Next time you're mentally shaking your fist at a biased report in The New York Times (and it's often well-deserved), remember that conservative media are also biased, to the point of purposely misleading the public. That's what happened here.
(This article was also published at Opinion Forum.)