September 26, 2013 | by Casey N. Cep
During the bedtime-story portion of his twenty-one-hours-and-nineteen-minutes-long speech on the floor of Congress, Senator Ted Cruz, in an episode that has already achieved notoriety, read Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham as his two daughters watched at home in their pajamas.
“I will credit my father,” Senator Cruz said. “He invented green eggs and ham.” Cruz’s father, the senator remembered, would add food coloring to eggs or mix spinach into them to get the green color.
But not even Dr. Seuss would say that he invented green eggs and ham. It was a bet with his publisher that led Theodor Seuss Geisel to write the book. Bennett Cerf wagered $50 that Geisel could not write a book with only fifty words.
And yet by repeating forty-nine monosyllabic words and a single polysyllabic word (anywhere), Geisel assembled a book with 681 words total that would become his most popular book ever, selling tens of millions of copies. Geisel claimed that Cerf never paid him the $50, but Green Eggs and Ham was one of the many Beginner Books that made the author and his publishing house millions of dollars.
Part of Dr. Seuss’s midcentury success came from federal education reform that dedicated money to stocking school libraries and promoting early education. “Children’s lit,” according to critic Louis Menand, “was a Cold War growth industry, right alongside Boeing, Northrop, and Dow Chemical.”
Dr. Seuss, in particular, was very much of his time, and Menand offers a convincing read of The Cat in the Hat as an allegory for the problems of feminism, communism, and juvenile delinquency.
The moral of Green Eggs and Ham, though, seemed straightforward until last night. The narrator, Sam, claims for the first half of the book’s pages that “I do not like green eggs and ham,” but then, after trying them, says for the second half, “I like green eggs and ham!”
Senator Cruz claimed that Sam could be an allegory for Americans and healthcare. “Let me say more broadly to everyone,” he said, “Green Eggs and Ham has some applicability, as curious as it might sound to Obamacare, because three-and-a-half years ago, President Obama and Senate Democrats told the American people, Just try Obamacare. Just try it.”
According to Cruz, “the difference with Green Eggs and Ham is when Americans tried it, they discovered they did not like green eggs and ham … They did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house, or with a mouse.”
But Cruz isn’t the first to quote Dr. Seuss on the floor of the Senate (senators John Kerry, Harry Reid, and Joe Lieberman have all quoted him, too), and many other exegetes disagreed with his reading of the children’s book and the American public.
If you missed Senator Cruz’s reading, it is archived in video form and will join the many other mentions of Dr. Seuss in the Congressional Record.