This morning when the alarm clock radio went off, as is often the case the first thing I heard was not the classical music for which I listen to this particular radio station, but rather a summary of news headlines from NPR. The second of these headlines included an audio clip from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who was defending herself against calls for her resignation as a result of the thus-far tortured attempts to implement the Affordable Health Care Act. Rarely do I sit bolt upright in bed because of something I hear on the news, but in this case it would have been difficult to do otherwise.
“The majority of people calling for me to resign,” Secretary Sebelius commented at a press conference, “I would say are people who I don’t work for. And who do not want this program to work in the first place.” You can watch Secretary Sebelius actually making this comment by following this link.
Sometimes one can almost audibly hear someone’s career hitting the skids, and this is one of those moments.
Over the course of her service in both elected and appointed government office, Secretary Sebelius has done many things which those of a different political persuasion from hers have taken issue with. That of course is the nature of politics, and indeed of representative democracy. She has also taken on a rather antipathetic view of her own Catholic faith, a view which she appears to value more than the fraternal correction she has received on numerous occasions from many of her fellow Catholics, including her own bishop. One can debate whether and to what extent an individual’s religious beliefs become relevant to their place in the public square, or the obligation of public officials who are Catholics to adhere to the tenets of their faith. I will leave that to those more adept than I at addressing such matters, and refer you for example to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia’s superbly-written book on this subject, “Render Unto Caesar”.
However in this case we are no longer dealing only with someone who has headed off in a policy direction which runs counter to and in fact openly attacks the institutions of her own faith, but someone who does not appear to understand the basic principles of civics, as practiced in the United States. For as any reasonable American must acknowledge, regardless of their political affiliation, a public servant is the servant of all. Secretary Sebelius is not simply the employee of the person who appointed her to the position which she presently holds, or of the political party which she happens to belong to, or of those who happen to agree with the policies she is attempting to implement. She is, whether she likes it or not, here to serve all of us.
It cannot be that we simply accept or ignore the revelation that someone who was appointed to serve all of the people of this country equally has concluded that, in fact, she must only serve those whom she personally prefers. This is not simply bad governance, it is the very definition of arrogance. It betrays what is clearly a deeply-held, personal belief, spoken perhaps without thought as to its implications, but nevertheless revealing of the philosophical principles of the speaker, that to be a public servant is to be selective in one’s servitude.
Our American system of government cannot function when our public servants are only capable of serving those whose views mirror their own. So when a public servant of the people of the United States cannot come to grips with that fundamental concept, then that servant must either step down or be dismissed. There are no two ways about it.
Whatever happens with respect to the implementation of Obamacare, clearly Secretary Sebelius has revealed by her own words that she is personally incapable of continuing to serve all of the American people effectively. If she cannot serve all of us, then she should not be permitted to serve any of us. And for her own sake, as a fellow Catholic, I hope that when she does leave, as she now must, she will take the time to reflect on what she has done during her time in office, not only with respect to the principles of civil governance, but particularly with regard to the Church to which she belongs. Let us hope that her replacement, whoever that will be, will be more willing and able to serve the people of this country effectively and professionally.