by Robert Brinkmann, National League of Postmasters Legislative Counsel
These are tough times in so many ways. Not only does it seem that the Postal Service has been determined (at least over the last several years) to eradicate Postmasters from the face of the earth, but Congress these days is taking shots right and left at federal workers, day after day, after day again. I had lunch with the Washington Post reporter who covers and federal worker beat, and he was as amazed as I was about the intensity and pace of the attacks. Both of us have watched events in Washington for decades and we have never seen anything like it. And, although sometimes postal employees are excluded from those shots, some of those shots are bound to hit home.
It is not a pretty picture. The assumptions behind the shots seem to be that federal employees are overpaid, underworked, and that their job is not particularly valuable to the Republic or its citizens. Amazingly, all this is happening because of politics and, despite the legions of air traffic controllers, law enforcement officers, military officers and ratings, Postmasters and other federal employees that are universally necessary for our society to function efficiently, and despite those who are almost universally well liked and respected (think park rangers), this is not the federal civil servants’ finest hour.
Part of the reason that the Postal Service is in such a bad way in Washington is that this city has become so incredibly polarized that facts have begun to become less and less and less important. Ideology has now become more important than facts, and ideological points now seem to trump factual points. Now, what seems to count is not what the facts are, nor what they reasonably might be in the future, but rather how much you can harm your opponent by twisting the facts, and how sharp you can make—and deeply embed—your political barbs. You know what I mean. We hear it every day on the news. This politician says the other one is lying; the other says another is cheating; a third calls a fourth a socialist even though the third took the very same position on the same issue 10 years ago; a fifth says yet another is trying to destroy America … I tire of this destructive rhetoric and the fact that none of them is really trying to get at what is the truth. Without a sincere quest for factual truth, a democracy cannot function.
The alienation and polarization is rendering our political system dysfunctional and preventing (so far) a reasonable political solution for the Postal Service from being crafted and passing all the way through the system. We are, unfortunately, a political victim of the times. Mind you, my comments have absolutely nothing to do with the substance of any of the positions of any of the politicians—right, left, or center—and I want to make that perfectly clear. My concern is with the rhetoric. It is with the attitude behind the rhetoric that simply ignores facts, makes up other facts, and crafts accusations and personal attacks that calls people liars and cheats. We have seen that so much in the political primaries this year … the rhetoric has become, in my view, unacceptable.
In terms of the Postal Service, the staff on the Hill that handled postal matters for years and understood the Postal Service, the system, the mailing industry and the economics of the postal sphere is gone. The key stalwarts among members of the House and Senate who knew and understood postal affairs and the economics of the system are gone. Replacing them are staff and members, some of whom—deep down—actually believe the rhetoric that the Postal Service has spouted over the last few years, and have concluded that the Postal Service is finished.
Indeed, a few of those felt that Postal Service was finished years ago and all that is happening now is simply a death watch. In their mind, the Postal Service is going to die either now or later. All these individuals want to do now is pull as much money out of the system as they can to cover future pension and benefit liabilities, with no thought of service, customer needs, or maintaining and growing postal volumes and revenues.I certainly do not wish to suggest that all the staff on the Hill is like this, but some in key positions are—and it is hurting us.
You need to know that the next several months are critical. I just received one email from a retired Postmaster who told me that he thinks that the Postal Service is doing more harm than good with its cry of wolf, and he is afraid that while the Postal Service has successfully used that tactic in the past, just like the little boy who cried wolf one time too many, this time is could end with tragic consequences.
That is possible. Your future, and that of the Postal Service, depends upon the pessimism, negativism and cynicism about the Postal Service that permeates the Hill not winning the day. The only thing standing between you and what will happen if that view wins the day are groups like the LEAGUE. You need to support the LEAGUE and others more than ever. We have won some great battles in the last year. Yet the war is far from over. There are many battles yet to come and, while I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, we stand between you and destruction.
We need to get Congress back to the point where it really looks at facts, explores the facts, and considers the facts. We need to get back to the point where views are formed by people who know what they are doing, and don’t rely on bureaucrats who sit behind the scene, in rooms with computer programs and numbers. You know the type, those consultants and technicians that make recommendations about people, communities and markets that they have never seen, nor explored, and really don’t understand.
This is not a partisan statement. Believe me, the blame falls on both sides of the political spectrum. The conservatives who now control the House have done this far too many times, as has the White House. The truth of the matter is that few, if any, people making decisions about postal matters either on Capitol Hill or at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have any idea what they are talking about.
The LEAGUE and other groups, through the efforts of hundreds of you, have brought the issues to the policy makers in a reasonable, simple, well developed way. The Senate has listened to some degree, but neither leadership in the House of Representatives nor the White House really have. The House has not tried to listen because it is afraid the facts might get in the way of its predetermined ideological positions and decisions, and its efforts to change the name of the person who sits in the White House. The White House has not listened because they are afraid that if they listen to “lobbyists,” they somehow will be morally polluted. Because of this attitude, this White House is operating on many complex domestic issues from a position of ignorance that far exceeds other administrations, either Republican or Democrat.
Its misfeasance in this respect is perhaps even greater than that of the House. And that is saying a lot.
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