Conservatives who hate government, but want government jobs

September 22, 2011

All the leading Republican presidential contenders except Jon Huntsman are denouncing government, with high vituperation. Yet all have spent some to most of their adult lives as office-holders, enjoying the perquisites of government and pocketing some of the public spending they say they oppose.

This a bit like a used-car salesman claiming to be a consumer crusader or a high-class madam denouncing Internet porn. Why does anyone believe politicians who shake their fists against government while comfortably ensconced as government insiders?


* Rick Perry, the putative Republican frontrunner. After college he joined the Air Force – an admirable form of service, and also a secure government job. Afterward, he spent seven years in cotton farming, where federal price supports insulate growers against free-market competition. Since then, Perry has been a government employee: first in the Texas state legislature, then as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, then lieutenant governor, then governor of Texas. Now Perry is campaigning for a federal job with a $400,000 salary and very substantial subsidized lifetime benefits.

* Michele Bachmann. After graduating from law school, she worked as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, a secure government job. Then she spent about a decade raising children. Since 2000, she has been a public official, first in the Minnesota state Senate, now in the U.S. House of Representatives.

* Newt Gingrich. After graduating from college, he worked as a lecturer at two publicly funded universities, then became a member of the House of Representatives for two decades. Since 1999 he’s more-or-less been a business person. But most of his adult life was spent on the public payroll.

* Ron Paul was a flight surgeon — first for the United States Air Force for two years and then for the National Guard for three years. He then spent eight years in private medical practice (obstetrics and gynecology). He was elected to the House of Representatives, then left briefly to work as an investment advisor. Paul quickly fled the private sector and came back to Congress. Since 1997, he has been a U.S. government employee in a secure congressional seat.

* Of other Republican candidates declared or expected, Sarah Palin worked as a sportscaster before becoming a city official, then a mayor, then governor of Alaska. After law school, Rick Santorum was in private practice for four years before being elected to the House of Representatives and then to the Senate, spending 17 years in Congress. Jon Huntsman has spent much of his life as a government official, but with Huntsman there is no issue because he does not use anti-government invective.

* Mitt Romney is the sole prominent contender for the Republican nomination who has spent most of his adult life in private enterprise. Herman Cain is the sole Republican presidential candidate who has never been on the public payroll — though not for lack of trying. Since 2000, Cain has run repeatedly for office.

So the Republican field is chock with people who say government and government spending are objectionable – after first ensuring they personally benefit from money forcibly extracted from taxpayers’ pockets.

At the risk of quoting Al Sharpton, let me quote Al Sharpton: “Fundamentally, life is a hustle.” Politicians who denounce government, while craving for themselves its benefits, are engaged in a hustle. It’s a hustle that seems to have an appeal. Why?

One reason may be that there’s a sucker born every minute. Voters who say they are angry about government nevertheless are impressed with office-holders who sweep into meetings surrounded by bodyguards, and who have – or at least, pretend they have – tremendous power. You’d expect a true outsider to make the best case against government. Instead, voters seem to pay more attention to anti-government pronouncements from insiders.

Another reason may be that voters want to cover their bases by listening to anti-government vitriol, then reelect incumbents – even though, if it’s true that government is terrible, incumbents are to blame. The latest polls show just 12 percent of Americans think Congress is doing a good job. Yet it’s likely that the overwhelming majority of members of Congress will be reelected.

But there may be a larger dynamic – that voters, not candidates, are the biggest hypocrites.

Suzanne Mettler, author of the terrific, and terrifically important, new book The Submerged State, points out that in a 2008 Cornell Survey Research poll, 57 percent of Americans denied they had ever benefitted from any “government social program.” But then asked specifically if they had used student loans, the mortgage-interest deduction, Social Security and other common government social programs, it turned out almost every one of them had.

The Republican presidential candidates who denounce government, yet enjoy cushy government jobs, reflect the two-faced nature of much of the electorate. Many voters want to huff and puff about how they hate government, all the while drawing government benefits. Their concerns are reflected by candidates who denounce government while being on its dole.

Footnote: the 12 percent of Americans who think Congress is doing a good job, who are these crackpots?

Photo: Republican presidential candidates (L-R): Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Jon Huntsman stand on stage before the start of the Reagan Centennial GOP presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni


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So the government takes your money, gives you back 80% of it, and this disqualifies you from complaining about it?

Posted by Reuters10101 | Report as abusive

The avg teacher up here in the NW makes almost $100k/yr when you calculate legacy cost ($65k avg/yr + legacy costs)-for 9 months work with all holidays off-and they say their under paid! Who wouldn’t want a job like that? Government is now 40% of US GDP, how much larger should it get? The Chinese (communist FYI) say our governmentr is too large (debt/deficits) THE CHINESE!

Posted by DrJJJJ | Report as abusive

No doubt there’s lots of hypocrisy in government officials-but this is more worthy of a junior high school level opinion paper. Did the author bother to note that Ron Paul went into service during the draft?

Posted by Radiofriendly | Report as abusive

Gregg, I normally love everything you write, but come on! This strikes me as very weak. These people are running for President. The “government jobs” they’ve had are positions like governor, Senator, or Congressional representative. I don’t think it’s fair or logical to argue that if you think there is too much bureaucracy, you’re a hypocrite if you want to hold public office.

“President of the United States” does not equal “Deputy Assistant Undersecretary for Diversity Policy at the Department of Commerce.” The latter is the kind of government job some of us think there are too much of. I think most of us would concede that the former is a necessary position — not to mention one provided for in the Constitution.

Posted by jrb125 | Report as abusive

Brief Overview of Congressman Paul’s Record:

* He has never voted to raise congressional pay.
* He has never taken a government-paid junket.
* He does not participate in the lucrative congressional pension program.
* He returns a portion of his annual congressional office budget to the U.S. treasury every year.

Ron Paul is hardly someone who “enjoys the perquisites of government and pocketing some of the public spending they say they oppose” as your story claims.

Seems like an honest guy. He’s got my vote.

Posted by RP2021 | Report as abusive

I agree with the writer. Now how can any of the candidates, including Barak Obama, make any changes to the system. They say they will, but they have worked in the system and that is all they know. Look at the Congress; same problem. You are expecting to get blood from a turnip. It can’t happen. Now tell us how to change it. We know what does not work.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive

I’d like to see those figures you’re quoting. Sounds to me like you “doctored” some numbers. I’ve never seen a single public school teacher with a salary of six figures, which makes your claim of average salary highly improbably. You should also be careful to define these “legacy costs”, because to an outsider it looks like you’re trying to compare apples and oranges.

Lastly, there is a big difference between a government being big in terms of power and a government’s deficit being large. One indicates your political system, while the other indicates the health of your economy. Don’t pretend those two things are identical, or even strongly linked.

Posted by TrueIronPatriot | Report as abusive


Your numbers on government spending being 40% of GDP are also patently false. Quote Wikipedia’s lies if you must (their numbers are supplied by two wingnut havens, the Heritage Foundation and the WSJ). Even they weren’t bold enough to lie and say it was 40%.

The fact of the matter is that government spending as a percent of GDP always rises in a recession. GDP falls in a recession and government spending automatically rises (due to things like unemployment benefits) which are considered counter-cyclical automatic stabilizers. Add in the stimulus and that’s where the high number comes from. But with the stimulus fading out, government spending has now fallen into line with its long-run average (lower in fact, than most of the Bush years).

Thanks for bringing out your falsehoods and lies so everyone can see them being debunked DrJ!

Posted by Sprizouse | Report as abusive

Rick Perry has been bragging about his Texas Emerging Technology Fund and the jobs created by start-up companies that the fund has invested in. Why does Texas have a venture capital fund financed with public money in the first place? Does Rick Perry not seem to understand one of the basic tenets of his own party (limited cope of government) And then there’s Michele Bachmann who’s promised, if elected, she’ll (somehow) make sure Americans will pay $2 for a gallon gas.

I expect the party that historically touts limited scope of government, capitalism, and the free market to have candidates that actually understand what those things mean.

Posted by jambrytay | Report as abusive

Kinda makes you wonder why they even bother to describe themselves as “public servants.”

Used to be that being a Congressperson was a part-time gig (and payed little or nothing). Now THAT’s public service.

And we wonder why they spend so much of their time campaigning (or raising money to help with campaigning)…they’re just trying to keep their cushy, well-paying jobs.

I’ve been wondering exactly WHY it costs so much more to run a campaign each year. Has the cost of air-time on tv and advertising really gone up that much? Or, is more spent employing “strategists” and other such tactical personnel? Really, there need to be limits in terms of how much money (and how much of their time) can be spent trying to keep their jobs (as opposed to actually DOING their jobs).

Posted by NedStark | Report as abusive

Ron Paul opted out of the congressional pension package and, although he has spent the last 30 years in Washington, all 30 have been spent trying to shrink government and bring change. Rather than simply stating the job description, maybe it would be better and more informative to look at voting record as well. it’s easy to say that they’re all part of the problem because they worked for the government, but do a little research into what they have done in that time and you may see things a little better.

Posted by Eagles55 | Report as abusive

so you’re saying paul stopped his career as a doctor to become a congressman because the pay is better?


Posted by common_sense | Report as abusive

This confuses me.

How can one have a conservative government without regulation and oversight?

No government or little government would mean loss of order on many levels.
(IE. The government should NOT run the banks, but it should have MORE auditors).


Posted by avgprsn | Report as abusive

It confuses me how you believe Ron Paul wants to stick with the government payroll even though he supported having the wages of him and his colleagues to be reduced

Posted by IronFlat | Report as abusive

This article is mostly pointless. How can one change the government in a democracy other than get elected? Only once they are elected can they change the terms ( and pay ) of their jobs and those around them in office. An interesting idea, but it misses the mark

Posted by sunnyman | Report as abusive

Gregg- you are right on. And as you seem to suggest, the voters are not only hypocrites- but more importantly have the attention span of a housefly. Look at all the tangential diatribes from the posters above, completely missing the point of the story. Hell, I’m surprised none of the posters brought up the story of their Uncle Nste and his yummy bbq on the 4th!

Sadly enough, it’s not only the lack of the electorate’s ability to focus, but more importantly their lack of understanding of the simple mechanics on subjects they’re most polarized on (ie government spending and social programs). As you illustrated so well, social programs people think they don’t receive, yet do, is more indicative that most people have no idea what constitutes a government funded program. I suppose they think these are either pennies from heaven- or more likely an entitlement that because they’ve paid a minuscule amount of taxes towards (in relationship to the benefits they’re receiving- ie SSI) they deserve it cause they paid into damn it!

Being educated on government issues is just too complex when you spend your days doing really important things like watching reality shows, fox news and trolling through facebook.

Oh, and by the way no post on government spending would be complete without referring to you (or anyone that disagrees with my delusional pov) as a republicon, libertard, socialist, nazi! That’s the new American way of debating :)

Posted by mynamehear2 | Report as abusive

Good old Reuters. It never let’s you down with its anti-Republican pro-Obama rhetoric.

Why bother with impartiality when you can slag the right.

(Come on reviewers – I dare you to publish this.)

Posted by eleno | Report as abusive

I have to commend Reuters for choosing a side. Not that it’s the right side, but a side nonetheless. I’m so sick of news organizations trying to pretend impartiality. It’s so refreshing to have a Reuters to know who to vote for cause I just can’t decide for myself without the op ed.

err.. well now that I think about it, since I’m not voting Obama and since you continue to trash anything relating to elephants, I think I’ll vote for Ron Paul. Well, that is until you tell me I shouldn’t.

Posted by cheech | Report as abusive

Congratulations Easterbrook for winning the Stupidest Editorial Ever award. You realize, of course, that even George Washington hated being President but did so out of a sense of duty. Washington also espoused that citizens should be wary of anyone that would actually want the job.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive

Rick Perry is best understood as someone who has made his fortune through politics, and intends to make a lot more. He started in politics as a Democrat, but switched sides. He had no real success in the private sector, but understands how big the money on the side can be. Take for example his unconstitutional attempt to make the HPV vaccine mandatory. He is solidly against healthcare and has led Texas to the highest rate of uninsured in the nation. Suddenly he attempts to make one particular vaccine mandatory – one that is very expensive and made exclusively by one company. How can anyone miss the conclusion here?

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

Politicians should not be paid for their service. Any self-(dis)respecting politician should be able to live very well on graft and prevarication without accepting taxpayer money.

Posted by goldfinger1 | Report as abusive 11/02/04/Voter-Ignorance-Threatens-Defic it-Reduction.aspx#page1

Enjoy. I think the point Gregg is trying to make, is that, generally speaking, we are unaware of how our government is really spending OUR money. It’s easy to argue about “earned benefits” like Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare…it’s much, much harder to argue about the mortgage deduction on your taxes – which is a government spending program. Or, should we discuss government subsidies to corn, oil, and other industries? Also, government spending programs.

We’d all benefit from understanding how the issues discussed in the “Submerged State” effect this country.

What we do with that information, well, that’s up to you.

Posted by GlassOnion | Report as abusive

This is like saying that it is a “waste” to sow one seed to grow a plant! We Conservatives are NOT against Government, just against BIG, wasteful, unlimited, nanny-statisms type government! We want LIMITED government, which automatically will be less wateful. I know you Libs at Reuters undestand this, but you pretend not to, so that you can prop up the Bamster!

Posted by RajeveAtReuters | Report as abusive

Reach much Gregg~??

Posted by CaliSunshine | Report as abusive

Conservatives do not hate government-this is damaging spin by extreme leftist terrorist! What we dislike is $4Billion per day/365 spending in the red, $15 Trillion/100% of US GDP as debt and spending dollars where 40 cents is borrowed! We’re all for helping the least of us, and trying to sustain a government that’s now 40% of US GDP! 1 out of 5 work in government now and another 1 out of 5 are retired or living off government! How much larger would you like this to be and how do you plan to pay for it? Don’t you think 2 out of 5 of us (working or living off gov) constititues a little conflict of interest when voting for more government-be honest? That’s what I thought! Honesty is the best policy and progressive socialism and huge government is an International disgrace-check Europe out if ya doubt-the results are in and it ain’t pretty! The least of us will be paying the most for spending on non essentials, so one could make the case that progressive socialist are the real enemy of the people!

Posted by DrJJJJ | Report as abusive

I think Gregg is dead on here. The book, The Submerged State, looks like quite an insightful read. It’s quite easy to attack around the edges, like @DrJJJJ has done repeatedly here today. It’s quite another thing to discuss the reality of the situation…and quite frankly when @DrJJJJ says something like “Don’t you think 2 out of 5 of us (working or living off gov) constititues a little conflict of interest when voting for more government-be honest?” it comes across as rather disingenuous when 5 out of 5 of us utilize the hidden submerged state discussed here. God forbid, we all should have a better understanding of how our government has really worked for the past 30+ years.

I’ve already ordered the book.

As always a thought provoking read. Thanks, Gregg.

Posted by GlassOnion | Report as abusive

Not only the Republican politicians are the big hypocrites. Famously racked up a couple of trillion dollar of national debt to fund their ideological empire when their Idiot Bush was in the White House, but now play ‘shut down the government’ to pretend to the financially prudent just to give Obama a hard time.

It’s also millions of people who hate, scold and insult government. Treat it like some kind of Communist regime. Then the moment they are in trouble, victims of their own failures in a winners-take-all society, boy don’t they demand, DEMAND, all those endless government handouts in food stamps, UI payments, health care benefits, etc etc. All the time blaming ‘handout socialists’ for all their troubles.

A society gone truly and purely oxymoronic.

Posted by TomKi | Report as abusive

So now thinking that the government is doing too much in general and particularly spending too much money means that a person has to reject all federal spending or anything that the government does? Government spending has increased by over $1 trillion per year since 2007, a 40% increase. Instead of doing things to help the economy recover those in the governmenet created a “stimulus” program which seems to have funneled billions of dollars to their political donors for fraudulent work projects. Google Solyndra for one example. There is a difference between what could work in theory and what people do in practice.

Posted by AustinG | Report as abusive

Why not? Our government has proven to be the most hypocritical of most. Support dictators, killer of own people, then turn about to support the protestors that are winning power so they will continue to exploit for their greediness. One, probably more have invested their money in off shore so called banks to avoid U.S. taxes. In debates that question is not asked. The bridge to nowhere is a perfect example of taking money from the government and pocketing most of it. They do not worry about such behavior or worse. In fact one who was supposed to protect women was paying high prices for prostitutes. His eventual punishment, getting a high paying television show. While I do not believe in drugs I do think the main reason they are not legalized is that politicians are getting a share of the profits. Most of them are not creditable enough themselves to claim its moral principals. And so it goes. 3 years for Obie and all he has helped are his electoral contributors. The height of imorality is to say that Palestinians should negotiate away their land since they will veto them who have a governemtn while recognizing arab countries that are still fighting for one. Reason, Israeli lobby has a lot of money, some of which we give each year, to lobby and support congressional candidates and probably higher ups as well. Hypocrites all. And stupid voters vote them back while complaining, or there is no choice for someone else. Thankfully our Empire is going downhill rapidly so perhaps hopefully we will have no money for wars and no funds to be raided by the greedy,

Posted by gany1 | Report as abusive

In regards to teachers making six figure salaries. ements/2011/mar/04/maciver-institute/mac iver-institute-says-average-annual-salar y-and-b/

Government spending is over 40% of GDP if you include federal, state, and local government spending. It is a fact that isn’t that hard to find. Other facts include the fact that we are borrowing a higher percentage of our federal budget than we did at the height of WW2. When we had tens of millions serving in the military in a country less than half the size it is now. When we produced much more military equipment and the supplies to run them. Pointing out that the government is trying to do too much is like pointing out that water is wet at this point. Yet some still argue.

Posted by AustinG | Report as abusive