By now you’ve heard about the Secret Service “Hookergate” scandal during President Obama’s just-completed Columbia trip:
It will doubtless take a while to get all the facts, but one thing is clear – when a group like the Secret Service, who are among the few government employees that the public still views with respect and admiration, are found involved in such an unseemly mess, something is definitely wrong.
I mean, we would not be surprised to hear about some OSHA inspector taking a bribe – we almost expect such malfeasance, and almost tolerate it, as long as it doesn’t become epidemic. We also simply yawn upon learning that JFK (or some governor) had mistresses. We have come to be a bit jaded about the “feet of clay” of our leaders. But the Secret Service? We’ve always thought they were different, above that sort of thing. So a story like this just doesn’t sit well with most of us.
Actually, we shouldn’t be surprised. Federal, State, and local employees are now earning substantially higher incomes than the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Government workers at every level also have lavish benefit packages, including Rolls-Royce health insurance and huge pensions. So it is no surprise that they should begin to feel just a bit “more important” than the rest of us.
But along with the excessive pay checks and benefits, there has been, over the last 30 years or so, a gradual increase in the “Gestapo” mentality of those who work for government. From the surly clerks at the DMV to the downright abusive “inspectors” at the EPA, the arrogance of government employees has reached unparallelled levels.
Then there is the blatant and flagrant misuse of taxpayer dollars exemplified by the current GSA scandal, where government employees went on a thinly disguised junket to Las Vegas:
But there is an even darker side to the behavior of government employees – anyone who owns a business has experienced it. From the OSHA to the FDA, there are countless stories of snotty little bureaucrats whose often threatening tone would make the KGB seem polite by comparison. And do I even need to mention the “courtesy” of those who work for the IRS? Anyone who has undergone an audit can attest to it.
The bottom line is that the old adage is true: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The ever-increasing size of the “Nanny-State” inevitably leads to the kind of environment in which government workers, given more and more power over the public, view themselves less as “public servants” and more as a member of the “ruling class” – someone to whom the rest of us are subservient.
Moreover, once one sees oneself in such a position, it is no surprise that they would also believe that the rules simply don’t apply to them. And unless and until we truly begin to downsize government at every level, and reduce the power that these glorified apparatchiks have over our lives, the growth of government employee misbehavior, both on and off the job, will continue.