Video released last week caught the bizarre spectacle of a congressman (Randy Neugabauer, R-Texas), who voted to shut the government down, berating a park ranger for telling a crowd that the park was closed.

“You ought to be ashamed,” the man who defunded the park told the park employee.

That’s bizarre — and of low character — but it represents the contradiction found at the heart of the modern conservative movement: people who want to shrink the government without actually sacrificing anything.

It’s a paradox that emerged with the Tea Party itself, as Americans concerned about the size and overreach of government went to town hall to demand, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

We’ve seen it every time House Republicans have tried to fill in the details of the Paul Ryan budget. They’ve never succeeded, because to shrink the government so much they’d need to cut too many programs that they also support.

We saw it earlier this year with a Congress that had pledged to eliminate wasteful government spending refusing to reduce farm subsidies.

Millions of people in this country seem to think that it’s possible to reduce the size of government without cutting any of the programs that impact them personally.

The very people calling on Americans to sacrifice and get off the government dole are refusing to sacrifice and get off the government dole. It may be a cheap shot to point out that no Republicans in Congress have volunteered to give up their government-funded health care, or their government pensions — but it makes the point. Why aren’t they leading by example?

The stubborn issue of hypocrisy is troubling, but it’s the stubborn issue of facts that matter. The federal government spends relatively little on foreign aid, the arts, parks, food inspection (yikes), and even education. Eliminating all of these things won’t make a dent, but will give you food poisoning and force you to teach your own kids about trigonometry.

If you really want to reduce the size of government, you have to substantially reduce one or more of the following things: Military spending, Homeland Security, Medicare or Social Security.

Do you want to cut the army? The navy? Customs inspection? The border patrol? Given the opportunity to do so many of the very same congressmen demanding a smaller government have instead insisted that the Pentagon get even more money than it asked for.

The other way to meaningfully shrink the government is to cut Social Security and Medicare. But it’s never on the table. Why? Because these are popular programs. That’s the problem today’s movement conservatism faces: Their own constituents are in favor of many of the “big government” programs that would need to be cut to actually reduce the size of government. They support a strong military, and veterans’ benefits and they want to collect Social Security and many already depend on Medicare.

America can’t end “big government” because Americans like it — or at least their corner of it. That’s why government grows: Not just under Clinton and Obama, but substantially under Reagan and both Bushes.

Having failed, over and over again, to reduce the size of government through the democratic process, a small group of lawmakers who think they know better than the voters are trying to reduce government through other means.

The irony is that Obamacare is actually an attempt to reduce government spending on health care. So even if the congressmen who don’t want to sacrifice their government-run health care force other Americans to sacrifice theirs, it won’t shrink the government one bit. But then, self-appointed elites who think they know better than the democratic process are usually wrong about a lot of things.

Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media, and archives his work at Email him at