In Defense of the Post Office

Receiving a Christmas card still matters in a wireless world.

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Our friends working overtime at the Post Office this holiday season deserve a heap more respect than they have been given--by Congress and by extension, the public. With every Christmas card you write, think of how far it goes and the hands that take it there, for 44 cents.

The U.S. Postal Service is an equalizer in that way: We all meet and greet on a level plane of 44 cents. In rain, sleet and snow, you know?

[Check out U.S. News debate: Has Christmas Become Too Secular?]

An obnoxious House Republican freshman, Joe Walsh of Illinois, should get a lump in his stocking for insulting a constituent who works for the Post Office. He sneered at that career as a "government job" to her face, with cameras there to record him shouting at her. Walsh is crazier than the rest of his class, but that's not saying much. My concern is his contempt could become contagious as Congress takes up "postal reform" next year. Beware postal reform. Dread it with all your might. Defend the postal service from oafs who don't get what it's all about.

The Post Office is a wonderful establishment! Don't take my word for it. Listen instead to Jane Austen, the English novelist speaking through a character, a young woman named Jane Fairfax: "If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it really is astonishing!"

Jane is delivering this soliloquy midway through the 1816 novel Emma, a sprightly tale set in an English country village. Let me continue the dialogue: "So seldom that a letter, among the thousands that are constantly passing about the kingdom, and not one in a million, I suppose, actually lost!"

[See 2011: The Year in Cartoons.]

Amen, Janes. Across the Atlantic two centuries later, our "universal delivery" system is unequalled in the world--except for the Royal Mail, I might add. For heaven's sake, the Post Office was established in 1789 by the Constitutional Convention as something any self-respecting republic had to have. The mail service is the circulation of the body public. It is not a business and should not be measured by the bottom line of what it costs. It is a priceless service to the citizenry in private, public and commercial life.

Social scientists have told us how crucial the Post Office was as an avenue of advancement for the African-American middle-class in the 20th century since other federal jobs were often closed to them. We don't want to "reform" our way out of that proud past of opening economic opportunity to earn a way into the middle class. But Congress is running scared of the critics.

As Christmas draws near and the volume of cards crisscrossing the country gets heavier by the day, we should all be writing thank you notes to the U.S. Postal Service. They do amazing work in linking us, each to each, with the written word on paper. Yes, Virginia, there are still letter writers in the world and it is still a thrill to get one in this wireless world. A stamped Christmas card may not say much, but it affirms your wider world of friends is still out there. It's also become a good time to note births, deaths and marriages in one's family, since most of us don't live in country villages. The death of a Danish doctor, a family friend, was sadly acknowledged this holiday season.

[U.S. Postal Service to Slow Deliveries Next Year.]

Most Christmas cards are personal touchstones of sorts, but I can't pretend I am sending or receiving as many as in past years. I hear the same from others. Two came by E-mail, but it was clear the total was diminished. It was an Englishman who invented and popularized the concept of Christmas cards in the 19th century. I know, because I saw the historical blue plaque on his house in Hampstead, a literary North London neighborhood near a heath.

Shucks, two cherished institutions are waning as we speak, as the sun sets early on one more December day. Our first-class Post Office is under siege from within the government. If we send out more Christmas cards, that may an excellent symbolic protest against pending plans to scale back America's proudest, oldest service. The post office is a wonderful establishment!

  • Read Remembering Richard Holbrooke a Year after His Death.
  • Check out pictures of the White House Christmas decorations.
  • Read 'New Domesticity' Is a Step Backwards for Women.