Hooray for charity

The Wisconsin State Journal today urges us to “Ring in big year for the Salvation Army.” And, yes, of course, we hope the annual holiday bell-ringing, and volunteering, and donating raises a record amount, because it’s sorely needed, more than ever.

(Make online donations here for Salvation Army or here for Second Harvest.)

This, of course, is what we call a  Wisconsin State Journal “Type 3 Filler Editorial”. Just to remind any new readers, the Type 3 Filler editorial is identified as follows:

3.  Filler.  Deadlines arrive relentlessly.  When nothing else is ready to print, the WSJ might praise the Girl Scouts, or bratwursts, or being neighborly. They might remind us to always have spare batteries for our flashlights. Or they might take someone else’s press release or a piece of their own reporting and rewrite it slightly, adding their own editorial “take”.  The Filler takes just minutes to prepare and serve.

Now, in today’s case this boost for the Salvation Army wasn’t driven by a deadline. It’s probably printed more-or-less annually, as a boilerplate “filler editorial.”  And it serves a good purpose. Filler editorials often promote a good cause or organization.

If we were to make some serious point about today’s editorial (and that’s generally why we’re here), it would be to note that this editorial — so obvious and un-challenging and easy and quick — is actually high-scoring work for the WSJ editorial page. It’s about as good as the editorials get. Here today, at least they are doing no harm.

But the general record is poor. What you’d hope for — and maybe expect, at least until expectations are dashed — is for an editorial page that says something insightful. The job of editorial writer is a privileged position. When you take such a job, you hold yourself out as someone with something to say, something worthwhile. You’re holding yourself out as a public intellectual, a person whose thinking and writing will pay rewards to readers. But there is no such payback to the reader of this editorial page.

The State Journal has entirely missed the central, downward arc of America’s hopes in the last several decades. The gradual capture of government by wealthy corporate and private interests is now so well-advanced that unemployed 20-year-old’s can discuss it. But our local full-time, paid, professional, public intellectuals — entrusted with the largest, broadest-reaching vehicle in Dane County — cannot seem to get their heads around it.