I understand you fellows like to get a feel of what the voters are concerned about. I can tell you about some things that concern me besides front-page front-burner items like official corruption.
For the last few years we've been hearing a lot about what a great power we are, and we're Number 1, and it's morning in America, and we're the greatest in the world.
I haven't traveled enough to know how it is in all the other countries, but I know how it used to be here.
There are lots of things missing besides nickel candy bars and penny-licorice shoestrings. You used to be able to mail a letter for less than 22 cents and expect it to get across town or in a nearby city in a day or so -- special delivery, if you wanted it there next morning. They don't even have special delivery any more -- it would probably just slow up service even more while they waited for a kid with a bike. Now you can get first-class letters many days late. You can still get overnight service -- for about 11 bucks. But you have to take it to a post office for that.
Meanwhile, the junk mail piles up and burdens the postal employes. A lot of not-very-personal first-class mail comes from businesses that get special low rates from the postal department. They can't tell me all this stuff doesn't slow up the real letters from real people to other real people. It does, and I can see it on the postmarks. I also see it on invitations mailed in plenty of time, which arrive after the events.
You used to be able to get on a plane and expect it to take off on time and at least come close to arriving on time. Have you gone anywhere by plane lately -- I mean, aside from special junkets and military planes and Air Force One? You know what I'm talking about. Deregulation shmeregulation.
We're now down to one major bus line. And trains aren't what they used to be, either. If the railroads were improved, maybe more people would ride them, and they'd even take some of the load off the planes. I understand that in Europe and Japan they have trains that go like hell. Canada has some fine ones too. We're not Number 1 in travel, are we?
Autos -- they're our biggest form of transportation. Have you tried to get yours serviced lately -- and at a decent price? Frankly, most of my friends are buying imports -- they say those run better, last longer and need less servicing. We hear a lot about "competitiveness," which seems to be kind of a synonym for protectionism. What about competitiveness in quality?
All that is just transportation. What about telephones? Since the breakup of the old phone company, I get so many bills with so many itemizations for so many special charges that pretty soon they're going to have to send these bills bound like books. We spend more money on outgoing calls and more time with unwelcome incoming calls. The junk-phone solicitations, like the junk mail, keep coming through.
The TV ads tell us that the pride is back. Okay, I'm all for pride. It's fine that there's pride in the military service, for example. But how about everyday non-military just-plain service -- the old customer-is-right idea. Private service and government service have not been Number 1 lately.
And speaking of government -- something else that bothers me: What about NASA? What happened to our once-spectacular space program? What happened to safety precautions and backup systems and all? Private companies in the United States have negotiated with China about launching satellites into space for them. China! And the Russians have taken ads in our newspapers to tell us that their launch service is the most reliable for us to use. Talk about competitiveness! Well, I'll bet we're still Number 1 in ad agencies, anyhow.
Now, what about the environment? What's happened with acid rain, with the ozone layer, with nuclear waste? My neighborhood hasn't yet turned into a dump, but I think the government ought to be doing something more than spinning a wheel to see what areas get dumped on. The evironment I'm familiar with is closer to home. I don't like smog and pollution, and I hope they put in more no-smoking areas in restaurants and other public places. With clean air, I breathe better.
I'd also breathe easier if I didn't keep reading about crime, more of that closer to home, too. Most of it seems to involve handguns. In addition to smog and tobacco smoke we have lots of gunsmoke. In all the world, we're absolutely and unquestionably Number 1 in guns and gun fatalities. Maybe you fellows in government can do something about this. I don't like the feeling that we're like some shoot-em-up frontier town or a ho-hum banana republic.
We also seem to be Number 1 in stock trading and greenmail and things like that. I don't know much about Wall Street or how those big deals are managed. But I know about places I see. In the area where I travel, several Safeway stores have closed. That happened after a takeover threat where the fellows who threatened the takeover walked off with over $100 million. And all apparently legit. So we have fewer stores, and a lot of people who worked in them are now unemployed.
Big gamblers used to talk about keeping the grocery clerks out. I guess that's what some of the financial gamblers are doing. Clerks' jobs and stores -- out. And consumers too. Somebody has to pay for that $100 million. Right?
If somebody can pick up that kind of money from being clever with computers, we ought to have people in government who are smart enough and care enough to figure how to stop that kind of game.
At one time some snobbish people in Europe used to call us a nation of dollar-chasers; they talked about "the almighty dollar." It wasn't true then. But now maybe it is. Remember what Vince Lombardi said about winning? It's not everything -- it's the only thing. It's getting to be like that with money. It's especially that way among the big shots. They've often talked about how poor people have needed to develop a "work ethic." A lot of high rollers have developed what I'd call a Greed Ethic.
Well, if you're elected, I'd like you to do something about the Greed Ethic. I know you can't do everything, but you can make a beginning. You can set a tone. You can talk about a Service Ethic.
You can keep in mind Harry Truman's words: The buck stops here. And you can add something else: Anything-for-a-buck stops now.
Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herbert Block has won three Pulitzer Prizes. The following is excerpted form his new book, "Herblock at Large."