The Annoying Census Ad Campaign

The Census Bureau conducted a massive and unprecedented advertising campaign (paid for by taxpayers) surrounding the 2010 Census. Consider the language of the TV commercials that comprised the largest (and most annoying) part of the Census campaign.

Here are three examples:

First is “A Musical Take on Mailing it Back,” or, as I call it, “What I’m pretty sure everyone over the age of 60 thinks of my generation.” I’ll interpret the words for you: “We need a resolution. The solution: evolution. To be a part of this movement. It’s evolution.”

Then the androgynous voice of the chorus chimes in with, “We can’t move forward, until you mail it back.” This idea of “progress” which defined the 2008 election pervades this commercial: join the “movement” and be part of the “change.” No thanks, I’ll pass. Especially if it means I have to listen to more of this.

Next we learn how to “Make Your Dream Community a Reality.” Here, a little girl creates a cartoon Mayberry out of Play-Doh, while the narrator reminds you that your very own dream community really is possible, if you would just spend 10 minutes filling out the Census. Apparently, it doesn’t take hard work and dedication to responsible citizenship by an entire local population to make a truly good place to live. It only takes a commitment by everyone to fill out the Census, so that their representatives can decide for them how to redistribute tax dollars to meet their every need.

In the third Census commercial, we find ourselves on the wrong end of a bullhorn on “A March to the Mailbox.” At the other end of the bullhorn is a man with a mustache. But he is more than one man (so he tells us): he speaks for his community, and his community wants its “fair share of funding.” That funding will be used to build better schools for the kids, to build better roads for his neighbor, and for “making healthcare better.”

The Census Bureau created a page on their website called “Census in the Constitution: Why Jefferson, Madison and the Founders Enshrined the Census in our Constitution.” The website quotes Article One, Section Two of the Constitution, where an “Enumeration” of the peoples of the United States was ordered to be taken “within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such manner as [Congress] shall by law direct.” The purpose of the Census, as the Bureau defines it, was to “use that count to determine representation in the Congress.” They’re right. That is the purpose. Of course that’s not in the TV ads, because who really wants to fill out the Census so representation can be apportioned correctly? The language used in these ads is important, and is a symptom of a deep-seeded dependence on, or at least an unconscious acceptance of, federal spending on entitlements.

America’s Founders are able to offer some wisdom as to our present situation. The Federalist Papers, the authoritative interpretation of the Constitution as written by its very creators, addresses “The Total Number of the House of Representatives” in “Federalist 55.” The author, likely James Madison, makes this prescient remark:  “Nothing can be more fallacious than to found our political principles on arithmetical principles.”

The Census, judged according to its own ad campaign, is doing just that: allowing the data gathered to determine where and how taxpayer dollars are apportioned for various government programs. There are no principles to be considered here, my dear Madison, only political priorities.

The Federalist Papers
do not address how taxpayer money should be apportioned to localities in accordance with the results of the Census, and I think it’s safe to assume that this was not mere oversight. Our Founding Fathers would undoubtedly roll over in their sacred graves if they heard how the Census, a device intended to serve the needs of a people in a constitutional republic, is being promoted as “A tool. [To make] an impact” on the ways we as citizens view the legitimate role of government in our lives. And they would roll over again if they had to listen to that awful song. Thank goodness the next Census is a decade away.


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