October 29 2013
Is the Term "Public Servant" Obsolete?
Americans fed up with Washington may be coming to a startling realization: the term “public servant” is obsolete.
Thomas Sowell writes:
Those we call “public servants” have in fact become public masters. And they act like it.
They squander ever more vast amounts of our tax money, and still leave trillions of dollars of national debt to be paid by our children and grandchildren. They intrude into our private lives with ever more restrictions, red tape and electronic surveillance. And they turn different groups of Americans against each other with class warfare rhetoric and policies.
The arrogance of one of those formerly known as a public servant was on full display this morning.
Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, testified on Capitol Hill this morning. She flatly refused to reveal the number of people who have enrolled in ObamaCare.
Unlike HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the Jon Stewart show, Ms. Tavenner didn't bother to pretend that she didn't know the numbers:
“We made the decision that we were not releasing the numbers until mid-November," she said.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., asked again whether she had any idea what the numbers are.
Her answer was the same.
"I'll take that as you don't want to answer the question," Nunes said.
Like many bureaucrats, Ms. Tavenner didn’t seem to think that the taxpayers, who provided funds for the ObamaCare rollout, are owed an accounting. After all, Ms. Tavenner and her fellow “public servants” have made a "decision" not to tell the plebs. They might let us know at a time more convenient for Ms. Tavenner and her ilk.
Sure, Ms. Tavenner’s arrogance is probably a personal character trait. But the arrogance also comes from being part of a permanent ruling class, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
As Thomas Sowell points out, this permanent ruling class is composed of Congress and federal bureaucrats. Many of them will spend their entire adult lives working for the government.
Interestingly, as Sowell notes, the United States was not founded by career politicians and bureaucrats. In the past, people often served in Washington and then went home. George Washington, for instance, was compared to Cincinnatus, the Roman general who was called from his farm to lead his nation to a great military victory and then returned to his plow.
Nobody returns to the plow today. Turnover in Congress is rare. Bureaucrats would be fools to leave their cushy and lucrative perches--and most of them don't. If you go to a fancy restaurant or a bar on a Friday in Washington, you can look around at the well-heeled people and think: “These are my employees.” Except that they no longer regard themselves as public servants who work for the citizens.
The rise of this permanent ruling class, Sowell points out, was made possible by the growth of a vast federal government with enormous amounts of money to spend. The bureaucrats also have power over our lives. Why go home again? Like much of what ails us, it was during the New Deal, when government grew by leaps and bounds, that this permanent ruling class came into being. It now is entrenched:
The ability to distribute vast amounts of largess to voters, at the taxpayers’ expense — President Obama’s giving away free cell phones during an election year being just the tip of the iceberg — further tilts the balance in favor of incumbents.
This kind of government must constantly “do something” in order to keep incumbents’ names in the news. In short, big government has every incentive to create bigger government.
And this is why the U.S. needs to do something more basic than simply vote in new rascals:
Throwing the rascals out will not get rid of this political pattern. The first step in limiting, and then scaling back, government itself must be limiting the time that anyone can remain in office — preferably limited to one term, to make it harder to become career politicians, a species we can well do without.
If we don't manage to scale back government, "public servants" such as Ms. Tavenner, Lois Lerner, late of the IRS, and members of Congress who no longer remember what district they are from will continue to rule our lives.