Physician, Heal Thyself

The Federal Trade Commission recently unlimbered some of its biggest guns for barrages against misleading advertising. It made an investigation to see whether, for example, various sports figures really drink the Miller’s “Lite” beer and other potions they advertise. And now deodorant manufacturers are being called on to justify the type of advertising that says their product encourages personal friendship. All this is very encouraging, especially to those of us who have always been inclined to take advertisements at face value. But now the time has gone for the FTC to turn its attention to what is, after all, the biggest advertiser in America—indeed, in the world: the government itself.

We could start with the names of government agencies and bodies. First of all, of course, the most prestigious government ministry ought to be called the Department of Travel. And wasn’t it better to call the Department of Defense the War Department? During the 158 years the United States had a War Department, the nation was involved in only fourteen years of war (not counting Indian wars, which came under the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian “Affairs”)—less than one year in ten. Since it has been a Defense Department, twenty-seven years, there have been nine years of war, more or less—one in three. And of course it is misleading to call the Internal Revenue Service a service. Wouldn’t it be more honest to call it—as the French do—a Department of Fiscal Impositions? Supreme Court “justices” might have to call themselves “opinions” or even “self-righteousnesses.” The biggest department, Health, Education, and Welware, would be more honest if it called itself the Department of Treatment, Custody, and Waiting ...

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