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The Day After
The Census bureau's ad campaign.


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Jonah Goldberg

Shh, you have to be very quiet. Yesterday was my birthday and I feel like a million zlotys. We beta-tested the phrase “all you can drink” last night. So now, every time I hit a key on the keyboard it sounds like James Carville yelling in my ear. Still, this web thing waits for no man so I will persevere. Besides, it was worth it. After all, 31 is the most important prime-number birth day whose digits add up to four that you can have.

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So, what to write about? Well, while shaving my tongue this morning, I heard another one of these infuriating census commercials. It was this one:

Announcer: Do you hear that? (2 seconds of silence)

It’s called dead air. A blank space. Nothing.

It’s to prove a point about Census 2000.

See when you don’t fill out your Census form, this is what you’ll probably get (2 seconds of silence). Nothing.

Do we even live in America anymore? Did rogue Canadian operatives slip over the border in the dead of night loaded with maple syrup and bad stand-up comics and suffering from Europhillia somehow take over our government?

These ads work on the assumption that Americans simply expect stuff from their government. Every night I see a half dozen different commercials explaining to me that I’m owed all sorts of goodies because I exist. (It’s hard work, I know, but I don’t expect anything for it.) These ads make it sound like there is this a huge pile of unclaimed property in Washington that by all rights should be coming my way. If I fill out the form I get it; if I don’t someone else gets my entertainment center from the Price is Right showdown.

When the first census takers scoured the land in 1790, vast numbers of people refused to cooperate because they didn’t trust the government or believe that it had any right to the information. Americans did not want — or expect — anything from their government. People still refuse to fill out the forms but now the government is trying to bribe them. Indeed, if you go to the census bureau’s website, they are very honest about it. In a section explaining their marketing strategy they say how imperative it is that they “dispel” the notion that the census is just a headcount. They want to package it as a “personal empowerment tool — making it relevant to each and every person. ‘What’s in it for me?’ became the strategy and core of the paid advertising campaign.”

Your tax dollars at work, baby! And, no, I am not making this up.

What’s even worse, though, is that they aren’t even appealing to people as Americans. The Census bureau explains how they have to appeal to different races differently. On “white” radio the Census Bureau’s motto is “this is your future. Don’t leave it blank.” But, when it comes to black audiences, recounts the Census marketing report, “research showed these populations needed specific messaging to motivate their participation.” So, using their “benefits strategy,” the Census bureau felt it was necessary to “create a strong sense of group identity for the African American audience.” So Black radio audiences are told by a black voice: “This is our future. Don’t leave it blank.” Native Americans are told: “Census 2000: Generations are counting on this. Don’t leave it blank.” Gays are told: “Census 2000: Fill it Out in Time to Watch the Oscars.”

Okay, I made that last one up. Still, I didn’t think anyone needed to be reminded that the United States government is not supposed to be in the business of creating “a strong sense of group identity for the African American audience.” It’s like we live in South Africa.

Leave aside the ad campaign, have you looked at the actual product they’re selling? Why does the government need to know what my race is? Why does it need to ask: “Because of a physical or mental or emotional condition lasting six months or more, does this person in your home have any difficulty in doing any of the following: dressing, bathing, getting around inside the home?” What the hell is that?

I don’t want to get into the evil — yes, evil — behind statistical sampling, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we’re being set up for something.

FACE LIFT
That racket you hear is the construction of — that’s right — the new National Review Online. Yes, another redesign. We’re growing out of old designs as fast as I grow out of pants. The new site, however, will have a special elastic waistband, the technicians assure me. So this should definitely be the last redesign before the next one.

Among the cool features on the new NRO:

Readable fonts!

Printable pages!

Doodads that makes the thingamajigs go faster.

Fewer moving parts so the Laotian kids working the tubes won’t keep losing fingers — many an OSHA inspector had a little extra something in his Christmas stocking for overlooking those mishaps, let me tell you.

Pretty, pretty colors.

New features (no porn).

A soda fountain with Mr. Pibb.

A virtual game of Connect Four so you can keep saying to yourself “Where?”

“Here: diagonally.”

“Pretty sneaky sis.”

“Don’t call me sis.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re the only person here.”

“Oh, right.”



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