Veteran actor John Ratzenberger has a simple question for President Barack Obama after hearing him vow to hire the “best and brightest” to fix the ObamaCare web site.
“Why didn’t they bring in experts at the very beginning?” Ratzenberger asks. Where were the folks who built Amazon or Travelocity’s web sites, the people with the experience to handle large-scale assignments, the erstwhile Cliff Clavin wonders.
“Obviously, they didn’t,” he says.
The Cheers star knows a little something about getting things done. Not only did Ratzenberger start his professional life as a craftsman–he helped build the stage at the historic Woodstock concert–he’s also adept at diagnosing what ails the modern American economy. We’ve lost the ability to make things on our own, to build a strong foundation essential to success, he says.
It’s a theme he’ll investigate with John Ratzenberger’s American Made, a new television show that touches on themes he explored via Made in America on The Travel Channel. The show hails the men and women who proudly make goods and services for their fellow Americans. The show’s Facebook page will soon feature the companies highlighted on the series so viewers can support their efforts directly.
To get his new show up and running, the actor is turning to FundAnything.com, a process he hopes will get everyday Americans invested in his project’s success.
“Hopefully, this will become a movement across the country,” he says. “You’re not gonna help create a movement without the people themselves, the people who go to work every day.”
The crowdfunding site offers a variety of goods for those who contribute as little as $10. Prizes range from exclusive video diaries to being a VIP on the show’s set.
Ratzenberger pins some of the blame on the country’s attitude toward production on schools canceling shop and wood classes and educational advisers looking down on technical trade schools while talking up college.
“All the innovators of western civilization, go back as far as you want–Da Vinci, Gutenberg, Steve Jobs, they all were people who learned all these skills and had a curiosity fostered in childhood,” he says. “They played and explored and built things. It didn’t come to them later in life.”
“We need to dispel that myth that manufacturing is a dirty, dead-end job,” he adds.
Buying “made in America” products, the kind he’ll focus on in his new show, does more than give someone a sense of pride. It saves money in the end, he argues.
“They think they’re getting a bargain if they buy something from China, like a T-shirt” he says. “In effect, it’s more expensive. The T-shirt factory that went out of business, that factory is no longer paying taxes into the local tax bank … our roads still need repairs, our police still need funding. That comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket.”
Ratzenberger became a national star thanks to his lovably verbose mailman on Cheers, but these days he’s also known for voicing a character in every Pixar animated feature. And he doesn’t mind summoning those characters for strangers. He says he’s been in airports chatting with fans of his Pixar work, parents who are having a devil of a time getting their kids to do their homework or go to bed on time. Ratzenberger offers to speak to the children directly on the phone, assuming the voice of, say, Hamm from the Toy Story franchise, to gently tell them to do as mommy and daddy say.
He’s grown accustomed to getting well wishes from strangers for his performances. He only wishes other workers got the same treatment.
“There should be an audience out there, outside every factory, every fabrication plant, to applaud the people making the necessary implements we really rely on every day,” he says.