An Indictment from George Will

I missed this OpEd in the Washington Post earlier (it came out on Thursday).

When conservatives break with their principles, they seem to become casual about breaking the law, too.æ Last year the then-General Accounting Office accused the Department of Health and Human Services of illegal spending when it distributed fake “news” videos that were used by 40 local stations around the country.æ In them the many benefits of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement were “reported” by a fake reporter whose actual status — an employee of an HHS subcontractor — was not revealed.æ The English version of these “video news releases” concluded, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.” …

The GAO has frequently had occasion to insist that taxpayers’ money cannot be used when the “obvious purpose is ‘self-aggrandizement’ or ‘puffery.'”.æ Last week it had another occasion, chastising the Office of National Drug Control Policy for also disseminating fake news videos.

It is difficult to calculate how many billions of dollars the government spends on indefensible, if not illegal, self-promotion.æ Democrats, too, have violated the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of various laws that contain language such as “no part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by the Congress” and appropriated funds may not be used “in a general propaganda effort designed to aid a political party or candidates.” But conservatives should be less aggressive than Democrats in using taxpayers’ money to try to mold taxpayers’ minds.

It is impossible to draw, with statutory language, a bright line between legitimate informing and illegitimate propagandizing by government.æ What is indispensable is common sense, and that is atrophying as this lawyer-ridden nation sinks deeper into the delusion that sensible behavior can be comprehensively codified.

Obviously government leaders must try to lead by persuading the public.æ But government by the consent of the governed should not mean government by consent produced by government propaganda.æ Unfortunately, as government’s pretensions grow, so does its sense that its glorious ends justify even the tackiest means.

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