Government bureaucrats are people, too
© Greg Nash

At Tuesday night's Republican debate, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (Texas) complained about "armies of regulators descending like locusts." The language is powerful and evocative. Apparently regulation has reached a point where it can be compared to a biblical plague that was visited upon the ancient Egyptians. This type of rhetoric is dangerous and dehumanizing.


It may come as a shock to many, but government bureaucrats are people too. They likely decided to pursue their careers in public service not with the dream of squelching liberty or denying freedom to others, but rather because they wanted to make the world a better place. In this motivation, I would suspect that they are very similar to many of the people running for president. I teach in a public policy school, and I see 23-year-olds with the ambition to enter public service, some who want to pursue elected office, and some who wish to work as civil servants. I do not see future locusts.

Paul Verkuil recently wrote, "I have always subscribed to the notion that whatever your political goals, pro- or anti-regulation, nothing can happen without responsible governance. Thus, for me, it's an obvious proposition: we must hire, promote or cull, and support people who do the difficult job of public administration." Finding good people for these jobs becomes infinitely harder when our potential leaders describe these jobs as akin to Old Testament horrors. It also makes the job of serving the public once you are in those positions much more challenging.

Ironically, many of the same politicians who are quick to condemn bureaucrats are quick to defend the police when issues of racial insensitivity are raised. During the undercard GOP debate on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) said that it was disturbing that Democrats are not standing behind police officers. Here is some news for those who defend the police but condemn the bureaucrats: Police officers are government bureaucrats. They are government bureaucrats who embody the ultimate power of the state, the power to take life. If you are worried about government power, then start with discussing police power.

Like other government bureaucrats, most police officers entered their profession because of a desire to serve the public. The same is true of another group of government bureaucrats that is roundly and often unfairly criticized: public school teachers. In all of these cases, we should start with the premise that people who sacrifice in order to serve the public are well-intentioned and should be applauded for these sacrifices. Then let's deal with the instances where authority is abused on a case by case basis, without condemning everyone in the profession.

There are certainly legitimate arguments to be made about government overreach. Some of these arguments were made eloquently at the Republican debate (Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul comes to mind). But these arguments are hurt, not helped, by incendiary rhetoric coming from people who aspire to the nation's highest office. If any of the people on stage last night actually get to the Oval Office, they will find thousands of dedicated government bureaucrats who believe that their job is to help the president carry out his or her agenda and to ensure that the law is upheld. What they won't find are locusts.

Shapiro is an associate professor and director of the Public Policy Program at Rutgers University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.