Do you need your child educated? Need a road connecting your house or business with others? Is there a burglar climbing into your basement window? Is your house on fire? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you need government. Only government deals with all these things, and more, at a reasonable cost!
Silly? Not any sillier than some of the commercials on TV. Banks, sodas, cars, and everything we buy uses advertising to build up their products or services in our minds. From giant billboards to catchy phrases to funny cartoons and actors, commercials influence what we like, determine what we buy—and what we believe.
Politicians use advertising, too, lots of it, to sell their ideas or candidates. These days, they spend billions telling us what a bad thing government is. Government, they say, is wasteful, inefficient, and out to get us. Vote for me, and I’ll fight the government for you! Government makes an easy target because it can’t fight back.
Case in point, the U.S. Postal Service. Used to be that everyone admired the mail service, and their motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
But in our time, some in the shipping industry saw that if they could discredit or kill off the Post Office they’d get a lot more business. Can you imagine what it would be like if we had to rely on one of the commercial companies to send a birthday card to Grandma? Probably $10 instead of the 46 cents it costs now.
Next case in point, public education. What a bargain! We send our kids off to school where they get teachers with college degrees, and expertise in how children learn, to watch and help them all day, teaching them everything from math, literature, foreign language, science—you name it—for pennies a day. We couldn’t even hire minimally qualified baby sitters for what we pay in taxes to support our schools.
Yet, a group of business people and politicians has contrived to convince many that our schools are no good, have failed, or don’t compare well to schools in China or elsewhere. Why have they done this? In part because billions can be made from the tests cranked out by the testing industry—tests that keep raising the bar so that schools always look bad even when they’re doing a good job. And even more billions can be made by getting the politicians in Columbus to funnel tons of our tax dollars into private schools, run by a handful of business folks that are far less qualified than the public school teachers and principals who have done a good job.
How has this happened? In part because public schools, like the Post Office, and all government agencies except the military, lack funds to defend themselves. If it wasn’t for the public sector unions running ads in support of the post office and public education, and occasional levy campaigns, we’d never hear anything good about them in the electronic media. And we’re not likely to raise taxes to give extra money to government to advertise the virtues of the Park Service, Highway Department, police protection, Medicare, Social Security, and the hundred other things government does for us well, and at bargain rates. So, it’s up to us to be discerning consumers of media, of advertising, and propaganda, to see through the nonsense. If our governmental agencies are all so bad, how did the U.S.A. become the great nation it is? Or are commercial interests just trying to sell us some snake oil which will make them richer, but might make us sick.
Private and commercial are not inherently better than public and governmental, but they are more expensive. Tragic will be the day that we have destroyed public education, the Post Office, and other public services and become dependant upon the wealthy advertisers, profiteers, and snake oil salesmen. Those of us who understand this reality had better defend good government while we still can. Word-of-mouth is a powerful advertising tool we all have, and we’d better use it.
Portsmouth High School graduate, Jack Burgess is a retired teacher of American & Global Studies. He’s worked in government at all levels.