Brand new thinking about government?

Every election -- and most of the days in between -- government takes a beating. But even if you believe that the public sector should butt out of the economy, you have to admit that roads, police, armies, and even the Internet can't happen without its involvement.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/staff
Government is easy to knock. Getting the right balance between performing essentially public services and intruding too much on the private sector will be deep, hard work for the White House and the next Congress. But no serious person thinks we can do without government.

Sometimes a new name is just what an organization needs. The Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation was a yawner. As IBM, it became the gold standard in office equipment. How about BackRub? Sounds holistic and friendly. When it relaunched as Google, it tapped into an impressive, hypermathematical vibe. Same with Brad’s Drink, which pharmacist Caleb Bradham of New Bern, N.C., concocted and later renamed Pepsi, making customers think not only young but about settling their stomachs.

Rebranding can also help when a company has so much baggage that it needs a new identity. ValuJet was a cheapo airline with a bad safety record. It remade itself as AirTran – nothing fancy, but it’ll get you there. Phillip Morris morphed into Altria, which sounds more like a Mediterranean island or a high-end charity than a tobacco trafficker. The controversial security firm of Blackwater is now Xe. Inscrutable? Dangerous? Go figure.

Yet another approach is to go warm and fuzzy. Radio Shack decided it would just be The Shack. The fast-food purveyor behind Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut became Yum.

See how this works? A little brainstorming, a little focus grouping, some capital letters, numbers, and other junk thrown into the WoRd ReCree-8R and, bam, you’ve been rebranded.

Here’s our rebranding project today. For generations, the word “government” has prompted groans and eye-rolling – from Ronald Reagan’s genial put-down (“I’m from the government and I’m here to help”) to tea party alarm over the ballooning size and intent of the public sector under the Obama administration. The problem is that we can’t do without government anymore than we can do without traffic lights, law courts, police departments, or soldiers. We can disagree on the amount of government or its functions, but no serious person thinks we should get rid of it altogether.

Good people work in government, trying to make the nation better. Maybe there are too few or too many. Maybe they shouldn’t be running midnight basketball programs or building a “bridge to nowhere.” Maybe they should. That’s a debate we can have without bombing the Murrah Federal Building or claiming that even the slightest budget cut will cause the breakdown of social order and the slaughter of innocents.

Conceptually, government is a noble idea, especially in a democracy where we all give our consent. Government is our collective effort to make our society better. We need good government. We don’t always get it. From Tammany Hall to the Kremlin, Pyongyang to Bell, Calif., governments have been turned into ATMs to reward cronies and cudgels to punish enemies. The no-show job, the make-work project, the bewildering maze of offices and forms and rules – it is hard to defend those practices.

But we can fix government without hating it. It may be true that government isn’t the solution to the job creation that is needed to counter high unemployment. Small business is where those jobs almost certainly need to come from. But every pickup truck driving a worker to a construction site rides on roads that only a government can build, maintain, and police. Every entrepreneur with a hot new Web business is piggybacking on the network developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The new governing configuration in Washington will soon be immersed in tough negotiations with the Obama administration over all aspects of government, from health-care policy to Wall Street regulation. Washington lawmakers will need our support and patience. Solomon knew how difficult the task was when he prayed for an understanding heart to help him make the right choices.

Meanwhile, you’ll hear few cheers when someone uses the G word. Which is why I’m proposing a new moniker. Here are a few suggestions to get us started. Let me know what you think:



The Guv Bud

Any of those work for you? The names are available. I know because I plugged them into the search engine formerly known as BackRub.

John Yemma is editor of The Christian Science Monitor.

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