The Public Sector Versus the Private Sector: The New Civil War

More than 150 years ago our nation was ravaged by the battle between the North and the South. Ceremonies commemorating the American Civil War are being planned in many parts of our nation. This is good and proper. We need to look back, pause, and ponder...


More than 150 years ago our nation was ravaged by the battle between the North and the South. Ceremonies commemorating the American Civil War are being planned in many parts of our nation. This is good and proper. We need to look back, pause, and ponder the reasons for the bloodshed which in many cases tore families apart and set brother against brother.

Long time friendships evaporated in a flash and these good feelings were replaced by hatred and anger. How could this be? What is it that could make people turn on other people they had known and loved? My friends, these questions have long troubled historians. Even as these solemn memorial ceremonies continue to make headlines in many different parts of America, something new is afoot in our nation. There is the faint musketry of yet another civil war. There is another chance that people will turn on their neighbors and once again friend will battle friend.

Recently it was my honor and privilege to serve as a key-note speaker and pre-conference seminar facilitator for the Wisconsin Fire Chief's Association. I have been to Wisconsin on a number of occasions and have always been well received. During my time there I got to meet some really neat people. As is my way, I worked to listen to their ideas and theories. I then shared my experiences with them and they were kind enough to share theirs with me. Let me suggest that these fine folks are in the running with the gang from Nebraska for the title of best group I have worked with in a long time.

As many of you make know, the state of Wisconsin has been at the heart of some very serious governmental issues recently. Their Governor recently beat back a recall effort and won the special election to remain in office. Public employees have been pounded and people are being urged by the media to turn on them. According to the discussions I had with a number of fire chiefs, the situation has become quite tense and disturbing.

On my first evening in Wisconsin Dells, I was treated to a fabulous meal at a lovely local steak house. While a couple of the chiefs and I were conversing at the bar the topic of conversation moved to the current state of affairs in our nation, in Wisconsin, and in the Garden State of New Jersey. Owing to his many visits to Wisconsin, Governor Christie from New Jersey became the topic of our discussions. You might say that I was called upon to justify my governor.

While it was not what I wanted to say, the reality of our circumstances forced me to speak of his animosity toward public employees, his dislike school teachers, and his personally-crafted pride and joy, the plan which froze my pension payments at their current level until the year 2030. As you might imagine, my comments were not laudatory. It is not easy to tell people that a man for who you voted screwed you.

The gang at the bar spoke of how police and fire people had backed the governor during the election and were spared some of the pain. However, like in New Jersey, money remains tight and programs remain in danger. I was forced to speak of the adversarial relationship between our governor and anything even remotely associated with the public sector.

At some point early in the discussion, one of the chiefs began to share a story with us. He mentioned how he and his family had been to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on a number of occasions in order to study lessons of that faraway conflict. He stated that at the time he was there he could not envision how such a conflict could ever happen. He told me that he could not imagine the circumstances under which one brother could turn against another: or one friend against another.

He then looked wistfully out the window of the restaurant. He then mentioned that he had recently begun to feel a subtle change in his relationship with certain of the people with whom he was friendly in his community. He could not point to anything specific however he suggested that some people seemed to be beginning to shun him. It was his perception that this was happening because he was perceived by them to be swilling from the public trough. I could tell that it really was bothering him. I then suggested that it was not too difficult to understand.

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