Salon's John Tierney overlooks the relative recentness and truer culprit of his otherwise correct observation:
[I]t’s a deeply ingrained part of Americans’ worldview that our postal service is the epitome of inefficiency and bad management, the perfect example of a bungling, poorly run government bureaucracy. That view gets reinforced from all kinds of sources--jaded journalists, editorial cartoonists given more to clichés than to cleverness, free-market economists, and others.
Every Christmas season I recline for yet another viewing of 1947's "Miracle on 34th Street," possibly the schmultziest film ever produced (excepting the previous year's "It's a Wonderful Life"), but, with the adorable Edmund Gwenn, is utterly irresistible to me. And every Christmas season I'm somewhat taken aback upon hearing John Payne's stirring, courtroom defense of the United States Postal Service as a model of government efficiency--a defense the film's producers surely believed would raise not one American eyebrow among its patriotic audiences.
Payne's commonplace, however, predated the rise of the far right, which very much required a widely recognizable symbol of government's gross inefficiency to gin up its campaign of government-as-the-everyday-problem (unless, of course, it's wearing a military uniform). Thus a year's-lost letter found and finally delivered--among the billions of letters delivered promptly and inexpensively--became one of the right's leading and grossest distortions of reality.
I've often wondered if the extraordinarily popular film itself was what triggered the right's peculiar obsession with the USPS, which, it would seem, was vastly respected as late as 1947.