Commentary

Federal Propaganda for Kids

By Tad DeHaven
July 6, 2002

Attention parents: Do you know where your kids are? Uncle Sam does. The federal government is cranking out propaganda and it has nothing to do with the war on terrorism. It has everything to do with indoctrinating your kids. Federal agencies are using taxpayer-funded Web sites to bypass parents and instill their tech-savvy children with heavy doses of big government activism.

A visit to the Social Security Administration’s “Kids Stuff,” for instance, lets children meet a number of cute animals that “tell you a story.” The turtle says, “With Social Security everybody wins.” The turtle fails to mention that absent a transition to private accounts, these kids will be forced to pay more into Social Security than their grandparents did, and they’ll get little to nothing in return. Everybody wins? A smiley pig adds to the disinformation by saying, “Social Security will be there when you need it. Social Security is your piggy bank for the future.”

For those teens about to experience the shock of having their first paycheck decimated by taxes, the IRS offers a site designed to squelch any resulting negative sentiments. One section uses a character named “Pizza Dude” in an attempt to shame young tip-earners into reporting the added income. The IRS site has the gall to state that, “The fact is not all that money belongs to you.” Worse, the IRS equates government services with pizza toppings and notes that “the more toppings you order, the more you have to pay for the pie.” A patronizing list of “Five Phrases for Getting Bigger Tips” is then added in a painfully unfunny attempt to curry favor with the IRS’s newest victims.

The IRS also offers a list of tax-related terms with definitions written in a basic, but often dubious manner. For instance, the IRS definition for taxes includes phrases like “This money is used to make your life better” and “Show a little gratitude, pay your fair share.” The IRS falsely claims in its definition of Social Security that “One day, when you’re your grandparents’ age, you’ll get the money back.”

The questionable content aimed at children being put forth by the Social Security Administration and IRS represent the tip of a massive iceberg. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Global Warming Kids Site” reeks of activism and scare tactics. In one instance the EPA offers kids an outdated comic book from 1993. It begins with a newspaper editor hysterically instructing his reporter to look into news “that the OZONE LAYER is being EATEN UP by some CHEMICALS we make on EARTH.” “This could be a DISASTER of HUMONGOUS PROPORTIONS!” he shouts.

In a section on the Bill of Rights, a children’s Web site produced by the Government Printing Office mentions the right “to Keep and Bear Arms in Common Defense.” A quick look at the 2nd Amendment makes no mention of the common defense, but does mention the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Could the intentions of the author be more obvious?

A dangerous line is crossed when a government agency strays from implementation of its legislated duties into a grayer area of biased advocacy and outright propaganda. Targeting such practices toward children so as to take advantage of their innocence and naiveté is in an affront to child and parent alike. American families now find themselves living in an age of war in which their lives depend on the government’s constitutionally mandated authority to protect them. Would it not be wise for Washington to stop wasting scarce resources on propaganda and instead shift them to the threat at hand?

Tad DeHaven is a fiscal policy researcher at the Cato Institute.