A few weeks ago, about the decline and possible fall of the United States Postal Service. The piece noted that it was a particularly bad idea to give the post office a financial haircut that bordered on scalping, as its right-wing critics were loudly demanding.
In the response to the column, it was refreshing to watch as a minor tidal wave gathered strength in support of the post office and demanded to be heard, particularly in this era in which federal government critics seem to have a monopoly on patriotic right-speak. The onslaught of comments gave my story “legs.”
The theme of “Staying Postal” suggested that the USPS was an institution that had and continues to play a critical role in spreading the gospel of information dissemination that is one of the American republic’s most powerful ideals championed by the likes of Ben Franklin and George Washington. It invoked a set of principles that trumped misguided attempts by critics to run the post office as a run-of-the-mill business that focused more on profits than the kind of American patriotic exceptionalism upon which the Postal Service and many other federal institutions are based.
The reaction to the column served as a good starting place to argue the proposition that not every institution in our Republic needs to make a profit. Some of these institutions carry with them an importance that transcends mere money.
Whether they agreed with me or not, the responders presented their cases in ways ranging from the brilliant to the loopy, along the way making an eloquent case for the importance of keeping the dialog going in service of the maintenance and upkeep of American democracy.
“Mike” chimed agreed that “the postal service should stay,” but “could use a lot of streamlining,” of which, for example, “cutting out Saturday deliveries is a good move.” This, in turn prompted “Craig Belfor” to respond somewhat archly that “I miss the Pony Express, carrier pigeons, and drums along the Mohawk,” but that he’d “learned to move on.” For “Craig,” it was “time to grow with the times, just as we did with the wheel and fire.”
Similarly, “Michael” marveled that “this author presents a rather twisted view of the Postal Service.” Believing that Congress was largely to blame for the currently degraded state of the Post Office, “Michael” similarly lamented that “the Postal Service had actually “never been involved to function as a legitimate business that pays for its existence,” more or less the mirror-image of my own non-capitalist model for postal delivery.
According to “Michael,” “whenever any attempt has been made to close any office that is pulling the system downward, the local congressperson steps in.” For “Michael,” this “not- in-my-district” mentality “had resulted in an outdated infrastructure suffering under its own bloated weight and straddled by 435 bosses who don’t pay for the business they want to operate (at a loss).” Having thrown the Postal Service to the tender mercies of the market, “Michael” then acknowledged that “if the USPS can’t become competitive, I’d bet our lives would go on just fine.”
The following day, “Bob” commented that “the US mail was set up to be self supporting,” and if the USPS couldn’t compete with private business, “it will go by the wayside.” It was Bob’s solution to “let the USPS raise the cost of postage and see if they can compete with private industry.”
Here things took a slightly different tack, with “Craig” sarcastically thanking “Bob” for calling the author “twisted,” noting that “all progress comes from twisted thought, not from the sheep who follow and only complain.” “Keep your rotary phones, eat peas with a fork, and always vote for the incumbent,” he sneered.
Accusations of my own secret Luddite past was more than compensated by “Joanie Coha-Long,” who suggested that “the author is spot on!” She explained that “the right-wing’s attempt to trim the Post Office first presented itself in a 2006 poison pill that required the Post Office to fully fund employee pensions into the far future. “What business,” Coha-Long queried, “is required to pre-fund their pension 75-years into the future? They want the Post Office to fail. Thus, it is failing.”
Some of the dozens of responses were downright poetic. “I still send real invitations, birthday, holiday and thank you cards,” wrote “Donna” who added, “I can’t imagine living without the Postal Service, not to mention the loss of jobs.” On that same day, GrannyBG chimed in with a pocket biography of Ben Franklin and her suspicion that “what is going on today is the gutting not only of our Postal System but of democracy in favor of oligarchy.” This, “GrannyBG” defined as a government “by and for the few.” Granny also noted that “when a government is defunded (and thus weakened) what takes over are the hungry sharks and robber barons and pirates who owe no allegiance to nation, people, or a future for our grandkids.”
Reverend Bruce Murphy evoked his own overseas experiences, noting, “if you’ve ever tried to use the mail service in another country, the appreciation of USPS greatly increases.” Referencing several overseas trips, Murphy spoke of American expatriates who “often send their mail home with visitors deposited once they arrive so it will reach its destination in days rather than months.”
Early the following week, “Sierra Salin” admitted that “we do not have a good government” and that to change it “we need to change policy away corporate control and mandate.” To do this, Salin believes it is necessary to “end/repeal corporate personhood, repeal Citizens Unite and reinstate Glass-Steagall.
By midweek, the argument was picked up by “Life in the Bubble” and others who agreed with me that “the Postal Service along with schools and transportation are hallmarks of a 1st world society.” They’re not supposed to be run as projects or even as break-even businesses,” “Life in a Bottle” complained, adding that “quality mail services are one of the things that set us apart from say, Afghanistan or Somalia.” Concluded “Life in a Bottle,” “we all pay into them for the betterment of all U.S. citizens and getting rid of the Postal Service is a ridiculous assertion.”