date /
Thursday 20 March 2008

author /

2 / comments

In a warning based on the US experience, Australian social commentator Don Watson says that government increasingly has no purpose or belief.

The former Keating speech writer and self professed “bleeding heart” undertook an extensive rail and road trip throughout the US and his reflections have been recently published.

I love Watson’s writing.  His wit, intelligence and command of language are pure bliss.

He starts his travels in Hurricane Katrina-torn New Orleans in 2005.  It is this experience that leads him to the depressing insight that government is doomed to fail.

And there is a story about brand in all this.

It is well known that the Bush administration failed to respond to the disaster.  In contrast, private interests and the evangelical churches saw opportunity in the devastation and responded with enthusiasm and passion.

“As profit and efficiency were in the nature of business, and charity and salvation in the nature of churches, incompetence and bureaucracy were in the nature of governments,” he writes in American Journeys.

He goes on the tease out the root cause of this contrast.

“It’s … pointless to imagine that a country governed by the principle of private interest is capable of fixing problems in the public interest – be they local, like New Orleans, national, like poverty, or global like the environment or peace,” he says.

“If ‘nature’ is the rule, it is not in America’s nature to solve anything unless there is a dollar or a soul in it.”

“The notion is of course, absurd, but scarcely more absurd than arguments you can hear on the radio or the television every day.

“Yet, while it is manifestly true that American churches and American corporations – and the American nation – do good and selfless works at home and abroad, it is also true that, in these days or culture wars, the idea of government being the principal agent of such works is faded.

“That is what New Orleans revealed about government: religion has a purpose and a principle; the private interest also has them. Both are granted the capacity to imagine something beyond and higher than the present reality and to make it possible for people to transcend themselves.

“But government is denied these things are has voluntarily relinquished them.

“Government has no purpose or belief to guide or energise it.  It is expected to fail and lives up to the expectation.”

Watson’s lessons are both sad and alarming. 

As a brand, government is weak.  And like any other weak brand it is because it generally stands for nothing but its own self-interest.

Brand is not about graphics or logos. It is about how an organisation functions and what underlying principles its actions are based on.

I was recently talking to a local government CEO about communications.  It was the CEO’s view that nothing was ever going to change the public perception that local government was inept at best and most likely corrupt.

Watson was right, the unfortunate expectation is for failure.


  • date /
    Sunday 4 May 2008

    author /
    Sam Radbond

    Oh! Great job!
    Very good and actual post.
    Thx, your blog in my RSS reader now

  • date /
    Tuesday 8 July 2008

    author /

    After this useful post,I will add your interesting blog in my Netvibes page!

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