By Matt Pommer
Conservatives often argue the federal government should “defend our shores, deliver the mail, and get the hell out of our lives.”
America entered so-called “off the books” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nickname reflects the war costs that were not calculated into whether the federal budget was balanced. For good measure, Republicans slashed income taxes and provided additional Medicare drug benefits.
Then there is the Postal Service, which is facing staggering billion-dollar deficits. Private delivery services have become major competitors. Salary and Social Security checks often are directly deposited.
More importantly we have changed the way we communicate. We don’t write many letters to each other. Friends and families communicate by Twitter, computers and cell phones. Pay phones, long a staple in college dorms, are disappearing. Instead of writing letters, we and our friends communicate by way of the computer and the telephone.
Walk on any campus in Wisconsin and you’ll see scores of young people with their cell phones to their ears. Perhaps nothing is more dramatic in the new communication world than the military in Iraq and Afghanistan talking and seeing their families via satellites.
Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam remember how they waited for letters from home. Mail call was a highlight of their day.
Given those changes, it is easy to understand the talk of ending general delivery service on Saturdays. News accounts suggest eliminating regular delivery on Saturday could mean the loss of 120,000 jobs. That would come at a time when all the political talk is on how to create additional jobs.
Wisconsin’s piece of changing federal policy usually amounts to 2 percent of any general federal change. Using that formula, ending Saturday delivery could take 2,400 Wisconsin residents off the federal payroll. There will be those who take retirement or perhaps an employer buyout.
No matter how you describe it, several thousand in Wisconsin would be without work.
The Postal Service’s financial dilemma provides an easily understandable case for the issues facing governments at all levels. Ending Saturday delivery would mean less service to the public.
Part of the economic retreat also will include closing small, largely rural, post offices. That might be hard to swallow for people, especially long-time residents, in those communities. The small rural towns often are in a struggle to keep their identity. Closing the post office could be seen as a step backward for these towns.
Some will suggest America could get along with mail delivery only three days a week. The Christmas catalogues, which show up as autumn begins, don’t need to be put in your mailbox five days a week.
But regular mail delivery persons provide a valuable service for the elderly and the disabled. They sense that a collection of newspapers on the doorstep or yesterday’s mail in the box suggest something inside might be wrong. Their calls to police or social service agencies might save those unable to get to the door.
Unlike the two wars, the public easily can see what Postal Service changes could mean. Some might even view them as steps to getting the federal government “out of our lives.”
Matt Pommer worked as reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.