The Uncivil Servant: Grimaldi

The Public Manager, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

The Uncivil Servant: Grimaldi


Public discourse recently has been bombarded with terminology and language that is designed more to obscure and misdirect than to clarify or aid comprehension. Examples abound. The current swine flu threat has nothing to do with pigs. Light beer weighs the same as regular beer. And more recently, taking stock for the investment in GM by the federal government is not referred to as "nationalizing the auto industry," but as, "taking stock in America."

The most outrageous example in recent times is from an investor relations officer who was touting his company to stock analysts for his firm. He described the organization's atrocious performance as "de-gaining." What he wanted to avoid saying was what everyone knew--they lost a ton of money! Likewise, the Treasury Secretary and others see the lessening in new unemployment claims as a flattening of the recession rather than the more accurate reality that 100,000 more citizens are newly unemployed.

Peacekeeper Missile

While government is not immune to such excesses, we must stay vigilant against the worst mistakes of the past. "Peacekeeper Missile" is one of my favorite terms. Surely, for those who have the misfortune to be under one of these devices when they land, I daresay "peace" is not the thought or concept that comes to mind. Moreover, isn't peace lost the instant someone pushes the launch button?

We spent a great deal of effort to put a warning label on cigarettes in 1964 to indicate that the product causes cancer. We then relented when the manufacturers wanted the designation of "low tar" for some varieties, only to find that lower tar had no bearing on the cancer-causing rates of the product itself.

Secondhand Smoke

Similarly, we worked mightily on the issue of "secondhand smoke." No America, this term does not refer to smoke traded at consignment shops and flea markets. And I predict that people who contracted diseases attributed to the byproduct of cigarettes don't feel that there is anything secondhand about their concerns.

On the political front, consider how former Governor Sarah Palin announced that she was stepping down from her office to better serve the citizens of Alaska. In her resignation speech, she said, "Only dead fish go with the flow." Now there's an image I can't get out of my head. We will delicately avoid offering an opinion as to how leaving the office improves the lot of her former constituents, but there are no doubt many who could argue that proposition either way.

Global Phenomenon

We in the United States are not alone. …

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