I’ve said this before, but while I have no problem at all with recognizing the heroism and bravery of those who risk their lives for the United States of America, the people who get underappreciated at times like these are the politicians, other political leaders and actors, and other government workers.

If you want a republic, you need these folks. You need Bob Gates, dragged out of retirement by George W. Bush and then retained by Barack Obama. You need Leon Panetta, who could have stayed in sunny California instead of taking on one more (and soon, yet another) job for his nation. You need Hillary Clinton and Condi Rice and Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. You need the Members of the 9/11 Commission, who tried to figure out how that disaster happened and how to prevent a recurrence, and you need the Members of Congress who pushed to make that commission happen. You need Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, and a bunch of other cabinet secretaries dating back to the Clinton years, and three Vice Presidents, and various Congressional Committee Chairs of both parties, and then the White House and Congressional and Commission staff, and diplomats and others who work at the relevant agencies…you need all those people. You need, too, the activists, pro- and anti-, who march and donate and petition and go door-to-door. You even need the losing candidates, from president on down.

No, most of them aren’t risking their lives, and no, not all of them did things that I consider to be positive contributions. But all of them — especially the ones you’ve heard of — risk their reputations. All of them choose, for whatever reasons, selfish or otherwise, a form of public service. Even the worst of the lot. Without them, no democracy. No republic. No freedom and liberty, as we think of them, including both public and private liberty.

We do a lot of honoring “the troops” in present-day USA, and as I said, I’m all for that, and proud to do so. But they’re not the only heroes of the republic. Don’t forget to honor the rest of them. And don’t forget that you, too, can be one.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.