Ignore the ads and proceed with privatization

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With a deadline looming at the end of the month, the truncheons are coming out in the battle over whether Pennsylvania should privatize wine and liquor sales.


The state House of Representatives approved a privatization measure in March, and so the pressure is now on the Senate to cobble something together before this legislative session winds down June 30. Though the House’s bill is likely to be significantly watered down by the Senate, if you’ll pardon the pun, privatization opponents hope to throw a barrel of ice water on the whole process and maintain the outmoded status quo.


To that end, the United Food and Commercial Workers Wine and Spirits Council has taken to the airwaves with two commercials seeking to change the minds of the majority of Pennsylvania adults who are in support of privatization. Part of a full-court media press estimated to cost more than $1 million, one ad prominently features the chronically unpopular Gov. Tom Corbett, and claims that his “liquor privatization scheme” would deprive state coffers of $100 million needed to balance the budget and would result in a tax increase to boot.


The way the union plays with those numbers should obviously be approached with some skepticism, but they close the 30-second ad by gravely describing the privatization plan as “radical.”


Radical? Really? It’s not as if Corbett and legislators are advocating that drinking fountains replace water with white wine or vodka. They are merely advocating that Pennsylvania leave Prohibition behind and join almost every other state in the country and allow private retailers to sell wine and spirits. That hardly fits the definition of radical.


If the ad focusing on Corbett is enough to make your eyebrows shoot skyward, the second commercial is a real doozy. Taking a note from the notorious “Daisy” ad President Lyndon Johnson deployed against Sen. Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential campaign, this features a young girl, maybe about 6 or 7 years old, dressed in black and tossing flower petals on her father’s casket. Then, in a voice-over, the girl intones that her father will never walk her down the aisle, see her graduate from high school or go to college because “a drunk driver took your life, and changed mine forever.”


The ad then praises “the effectiveness of wine and spirits store employees” and asserts that, thanks to their labors, “Pennsylvania has the lowest death rate associated with alcohol consumption in the nation.”


Like the other commercial, we’re urged to get to our phones, call our state senators and tell them to vote against privatization. In this case, not because it’s a “radical scheme,” but because “We don’t want other children to lose their parents.”


In this formulation, state store employees are the last line of defense between us and an apocalypse on our roads. Of course, it also raises this question: If alcohol can produce such tragic results, how can the members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Wine and Spirits Council sell the demon rum with anything approaching a clear conscience? Shouldn’t they renounce their chosen profession and immediately repent their sins?


But, obviously, these commercials are not about conscience, or facts, reason, or anything approaching a clear-headed argument. They’re about handsomely compensated state store employees fighting tooth and nail to hang on to jobs that would not offer the same level of remuneration or benefits should they be shifted to the private sector. As Nathan Benefield, director of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation, told the PoliticsPA website, “The ads are ridiculous and manipulative. Simply a scare tactic not supported by the evidence.”


We hope that voters and legislators treat these slices of hyperbole with the chuckles they deserve and proceed with privatization.


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