The uplifting rhetoric of national political debates took another twist last week.
If elected president, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that, starting on inauguration day, “… we’re going to start slitting throats on by one and be ready to go.” He was referring to the “bureaucracy” and the “deep state people.”
The statement invoked the expected reactions of horror from federal employee union presidents and others. American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley told GovExec the remark was “dangerous, disgusting, disgraceful and disqualifying.” National Treasury Employees Union Tony Reardon also slammed the statement, saying DeSantis crossed a line. Note that new IRS policy means revenue agents will no longer make unannounced visits to taxpayers’ homes out of concern for IRS employee safety.
The unfortunate and artless DeSantis comment brought to my mind an exchange between Robert F. Kennedy and the mobbed-up former Teamsters boss, Jimmy Hoffa, during one of the long mid-century hearings on union corruption.
Kennedy: Who’s back were you going to break figuratively?
DeSantis likewise used a doozy of figurative speech. The obvious question arises: Who’s throat are you going to slit, figuratively?
DeSantis’ made a common debate mistake, in addition to using klutzy language. He equated the civil federal service with policy it doesn’t actually make.
For instance, the Education Department has always been the object of debate — its scope, its policies, its authorities, even its existence. The people who work there didn’t invent the place, nor any, but a few of them actually set national education policy. That’s the work of elected administrations and their appointees, and of Congress.
In the ideal model, the civil service staff is politically neutral on the job, and only carries out policy in an unbiased manner.
To the extent the reality has so drifted, the government needs a snap-to. Mostly, the drift has occurred in specific and discrete cases. But those can infect how people feel about the government in general. And they can give rise to sentiments such as those expressed by DeSantis.
I can think of a dozen things DeSantis might’ve meant to say. But he went for the jugular, so to speak. About the only thing you can do individually is that which you normally do: Carry out your own job in the most ethical and judicious manner you can.
In the meantime, I paraphrase a former president who was also a governor and say to the Florida governor, “Mr. DeSantis, take back this comment.”