Grand Rounds

Why we do the things we do

Dr. Seuss and School House Rock Visit Washington's Quagmire

If they're gonna act like children, then we should talk to them like children.

I’m a child psychiatrist.  To a large extent, my currency is play. In fact, through play, through poems and make-believe and a little bit of satire, kids can realize things with greater and more sophisticated alacrity than can many adults.

So, as my children and I watched the issues in Congress unfold this week, it occurred to us that we were watching children. 

AH-HA!  

Perhaps if we communicate our views in terms that children can better understand, we can make the current quagmire in Washington inch a bit forward. After all, from a developmental perspective, this is without question a developmentally regressed time in politics. In fact, I’d place the current predicament in Washington at somewhere between ages four and seven. That’s the level of reasoning that is currently taking place among some members of governance for one of the most powerful nations on Earth.

So, my family and I went back and watched the School House Rock segment from the 70’s about how a bill becomes a law. That program really stymied us. Either the good people who wrote School House Rock were wrong, or the good people in Washington are wrong. 

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Bottom line? They both can’t be right. Even my youngest daughter understood that.

So—think of my tongue deeply in my cheek as you read the verses below. People who act like children must be treated like children. Imagine a children’s book not that different from the same Green Eggs and Ham that Mr. Cruz read during his faux-filibuster that can make things clearer on Capitol Hill. Of course, the irony of Mr. Cruz's choice is that his particular reading selection is all about teaching children that they need to try something first before they summarily reject it. But that might be a bit too obvious... 

 ____________________________________ 

John (the Speaker), whoes last name is Boehner

Once thought (poor chap) that it couldn’t be plainer

 

A bill is a bill

Until it’s a law

But then some new players

Did pay him a call

 

They explained, in loud tones, that we’ve made a mistake

Because, it turns out - some laws are fake!

What happens up there, in our Hallowed House Chambers?

If you don’t like the conclusion

You just stop being neighbors

 

There are no rules, it seems, for a working solution

If the rules themselves are the source of pollution

So forget that nice Bill, from School House Rock

Apparently that lesson was simply a Crock

 

The House can say “yes”

The Senate affirms

And then The President signs it

AND THOSE ARE THE TERMS

 

But, alas, it seems likely

That some managed election

Without understanding

Legislative Selection

 

So why write about something so serious this way?

Why write a dumb poem?

 

Why not just say:

 

The Law is The Law

You don’t get to quibble

If you can’t play by the rules

Then you don’t get to nibble

 

At the way that our system is designed to thus rule

We vote, and we win, or we lose

And that’s cool

 

I’m truly perplexed at these difficult junctions

About how to explain how our government functions

We’ve watched School House Rock

Dang, we had it all figured

But School House Rock is now reconfigured

 

Yeah, you’re just a bill, up on Capitol Hill

And although you might find your way

To becoming a law

There are folks who guffaw:

“That process means nothing today”

Steven Schlozman, M.D., is an Associate Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry for Harvard Medical School.

more...

Subscribe to Grand Rounds

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?