Putting the Servant Back in Public Servant

EPIGRAPH: “His life is no sinecure; and a methodical arrangement of his time will be necessary, in order to perform his many duties with any satisfaction to himself or his master.”– from “The Book of Household Management” by Mrs. Isabella Beeton

My friends, it occurs to me that when it comes to our so-called public servants, we’ve got the master-servant relationship exactly backwards.

After yet another spate of ethical scandals among our political class, we must admit that the sort of philandering and corruption rampant in their ranks reflects poorly on our ability to act as proper masters and certainly does not speak well to our ability to judge character and hire acceptable help. If the butler, stable-hand or charwoman in your own home behaved in such a manner, you would have sent him or her packing immediately.

What kind of servants are these, after all, who come and go as they please, who respond to neither phone calls nor letters, who hire their own family and friends and then exempt themselves from the very laws they’d have us observe? This is to say nothing of the awkward fact that they live in homes more lavish than our own and are ferried about in government vehicles as if they were to the manor born.

As is often the case in these matters, the situation has become untenable precisely because we have forgotten our position. The first order of business is to re-establish the hierarchy and remind this lot that they are, indeed, servants, and from here on out shall be treated as such. The most obvious change should be the easiest. As money is so often the root of all evil and it is unseemly for a servant to have more disposable income than his master, their pay must be cut. Lawmakers shall be put on a civil service pay scale and shall earn an allowance commensurate with his years in service.

But let us not become unduly focused on the subject of compensation. For it is ultimately not the money that speaks to a man’s character, but rather how that money is spent. The simple fact of the matter is that, given free rein, the servant will find himself in trouble regardless of the amount of change jingling in his pocket — especially if he is thrown together with others of his rank and provided no proper supervision.

And thus we get to the heart of the matter. The servant must be watched. He must be minded and cared for as if he were little more than a child. At all times, he should be kept busy and, when idle, should be protected from his worst vices. It will come as no surprise to the astute masters among us that even a small step — such as making all salaries, bank accounts and health records a matter of public knowledge — can affect a drastic change in the average servant’s attitude and behavior.

Yes, it does sound Draconian and not at all like something an enlightened person should embrace, but as the master in this relationship we are bound by duty and honor to do things for the good of the servants and society. Experts would undoubtedly agree that this hurts us far more than it hurts them.

By all means a servant is his own man, but only up to a point that he remains in his own domicile. Even then, he is housed on the master’s property, is he not? And as the servant’s public behavior is a reflection on his master as much as himself, we are well within our rights. Further, one does not need to consult a legal scholar to know that there is no literal right to privacy enshrined in our Constitution. They fancy themselves public servants, do they not? So surely they will make little protest about giving up some trivial matters of privacy.

Simply by revoking the right to privacy for the Congressional class, we shall take a large step toward righting the ship of state. Undoubtedly, a large number of potential candidates will suddenly find the price too dear — the skeletons in their closets too many — to consider a life as a public servant. To these we say, “Fare thee well. You were not fit to serve in the first place.”

Now on to more practical matters. Obviously, as we no longer live in an agrarian society in which we can house our public servants in humble cottages within shouting distance of our homes, we must improvise. Thankfully, our British forbears can be consulted for more than simple advice on how to handle Jeeves. By mining two rich veins pioneered by our friends across the sea — the boarding school and reality television — we can perhaps cobble together a guide for modern times.

Our politicians, while in office, shall live in dormitories. Only the most senior of lawmakers will receive private rooms; all others shall be assigned a roommate, preferably a member of the opposing party. Bathrooms, kitchens and recreational areas will be communal.

It goes without saying that said dormitories will be segregated by gender for the obvious reason that the male of the political class seems to be lacking in the most basic of social restraints.

The dorms shall be equipped with closed-circuit surveillance cameras. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and closet shall be watched at all times. 

Dorms shall be monitored by resident advisors. All visitors will be announced and all visits will be conducted in common rooms. No visitors will be allowed after 11 p.m. Buses will ferry the lawmakers to and from Congressional offices and the Capitol building when Congress is in session. During other times, car-pooling (in modest vehicles that get sensible gas mileage) will be the rule of the day. Cameras will be installed in all vehicles of the Congressional fleet.

Further, tracking bracelets — of the sort worn by repeat sex offenders and Hollywood celebrities — shall be mandatory.

The only moment a lawmaker will be without camera presence will be during matters regarding national security and on the weekends when he or she returns home to spouse and kids. Even then, cameras will be set up outside the home.

The ubiquitous presence of these cameras will not only provide the public with peace of mind, it will all but guarantee better behavior among our elected officials, instilling in them, perhaps, a sense of humility if not morality.

The footage may also provide hours upon hours of material for C-Span, with the possible benefits of making Mr. Rupert Murdoch less a force in our society while also instilling in our youth a new-found interest in politics. Of course, we may find it necessary to determine a way to discourage a certain other element of society — those poor souls addicted to lives spent flitting in front of “reality-television” cameras — from running for office. The solution to this problem may be as simple as an exclusive non-compete clause that forbids former public servants from seeking jobs in the field of entertainment.

It should be pointed out, though, that these reality TV “celebrities” have conducted themselves no worse than our lawmakers and it is unlikely they would do any more harm to the stature and reputation of the office. Indeed, we may be pleasantly delighted to find this programming garners high Nielsen ratings. If we were able to sell advertising time, this would not only go some small way in public servants paying for their keep, it might even put a dent in the budget deficit.

Ultimately, with a firm hand and a scrutinizing eye, we can reestablish a proper balance in our relationship with public servants, forging them into something both they and we can once again be proud of.


4 thoughts on “Putting the Servant Back in Public Servant

  1. In addition to selling sponsorships and advertorials (Imagine: “Use E-Z Off Make-Up Remover to erase that trace of lipstick off your dipstick and your wife will never know where you’ve been!”), there’s also the prime-time opportunities for coordinating public apologies and acts of contrition. (Related but separate note: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/06/07/137025147/anthony-weiner-takes-full-responsibility-whatever-that-means?sc=tumblr&cc=npr)

  2. Nice post. I learn something new and challenging
    on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It’s always interesting to read through content from other authors and practice a little something from other sites.

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