The ACP Advocate Blog

by Bob Doherty

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What Washington Might Learn from Dr. Seuss

With reports that the debt reduction “Super Committee” may deadlock, it’s time to bring in the spirit of Dr. Seuss to administer some emergency medicine! All 12 Super Committee members should be required to read the tale of the North-going and South-going Zax, from Dr. Seuss’s 1961 “Sneetches and Other Stories,” a modern day parable story for children about what happens when two stubborn individuals refuse to compromise. Excerpts:

"I say! You are blocking my path. You are right in my way. I’m a North-Going Zax and I always go north. Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!"

"Who’s in whose way?" snapped the South-Going Zax. "I always go south, making south-going tracks. So you’re in MY way! And I ask you to move and let me go south in my south-going groove."

Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride. "I never," he said, "take a step to one side. And I’ll prove to you that I won’t change my ways if I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!"

"And I’ll prove to YOU," yelled the South-Going Zax, "That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax for fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule that I learned as a boy back in South-Going School. Never budge! That’s my rule. Never budge in the least! Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east! I’ll stay here, not budging! I can and I will if it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"

But the World Didn’t Stand Still . . .

(Now, just replace the North-going and South-going Zax with John Boehner, or Mitch McConnell, or Barack Obama, or Harry Reid, and you’ve got today’s Washington described to a T!)

But it’s not just the politicians who need a counseling session with Dr. Seuss, it’s all of us.

It is we who in 2008 elected a president who pledged to reform health care, which he did, and it is we who in 2010 elected a House of Representatives that pledged to overturn it, which they are trying to do, and it is we who also voted last year to keep Democrats in charge of the Senate, which they are, virtually ensuring deadlock, which is what we have gotten.

It is we, the public, who “have become more doctrinaire at both ends of the ideological spectrum, a polarization that reflects the current atmosphere in Washington” reports the well-respected Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Pew also found that “Core GOP groups largely prefer elected officials who stick to their positions rather than those who compromise. Solid Liberals overwhelmingly prefer officials who compromise, but the other two Democratic groups do not.”

The dangerous reality is that we don’t have 59 days or 59 years to make progress on the deficit, on health care reform, on jobs, on so much more. But how can we expect politicians to make the necessary compromises if we, the voters, insist that they act like the Zax, refusing to budge, not an inch to the west, not an inch to the east, even if it causes the whole country to stand still?

Today’s question: What do you think Congress, and all of us, can learn from the Zax?


Blogger Harrison said...

I think that President Obama and the Democrats have actually moved out of the way quite substantially, and yet the Republicans have refused to move.

The Health care reform bill was a Republican idea dating back to 1994.
And yet no Republicans vote for it.

The Democrats have offered substantial cuts in Social Security and Medicare and they have pushed only for very minimal tax increases to help with balancing the budget, and the Republicans have refused because they insist on purity relative to tax increases.

I guess I'm not sure that the Zax analogy holds.
I think you are doing the same disservice that Jon Stewart often accuses the media of doing -- which is to grasp for anything to balance an argument so that it looks like blame is to be shared, when in fact blame rests more on one side than the other.


October 27, 2011 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger Steve Lucas said...


You appear to support the concept of: from each according to his ability to each according to his need?

Steve Lucas

October 29, 2011 at 3:23 PM  
Blogger Harrison said...


What exactly about my comment would prompt such a response?


November 9, 2011 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Steve Lucas said...


The constant drum beat of tax the rich and more government control.


November 9, 2011 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger Harrison said...

Taxing the rich isn't a new concept. There isn't much there to tax the poor, but we already do that anyway -- The payroll tax starts at the first dollar and stops at the 106,000th dollar. So that is a little bit like taxing the poor to enrich federal coffers.

The income tax is more progressive.
Most consumption taxes are regressive.
A flat tax seems simple but would be regressive.

I agree that corporate taxes aren't wonderful, because those are passed on to consumers in the costs of goods, and those tend to end up being taxes on consumers -- not progressive or regressive.

But on the other hand corporations should be asked to pay taxes on profits at some level.

Right now the efffective corporate tax rate in the US is around 27%, although on paper it looks like 39%. Few corporations pay the high rate.

I don't think that what I write is so simple to boil down to communist doctrine, but if it helps you to lump arguments together like that, I guess I can't stop you.


November 9, 2011 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Steve Lucas said...


The payroll tax you tout as enriching the federal coffers is Social Security. This may be used as collateral for borrowing, but does not meet the standard of an income tax. Currently over half of the US work force does not pay any federal taxes. This number is closer to a third in Canada. We need to broaden our tax base.

The problem with tax the rich is if you took every dollar of every person making over $100,000 per year you still could not support our current spending levels. Taking all of the assets of the Fortune 400 would only run the country for nine months. We have a spending problem.

Effective rate or not, we have some of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Large companies not paying taxes are taking advantage of current law. Laws change and a corporate tax overhaul may be in order.

Concerning your final statement: I will allow your fellow physicians and others reading this blog to draw their own conclusions.

Steve Lucas

November 10, 2011 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Harrison said...

Nobody is suggesting any plan to tax all of the income of every rich person or every corporation.
The proposals so far that have been shot down include rescinding the Bush tax cuts -- which mostly means an increase in the marginal tax rate for income over $250,000 from 35% to 39%. This is what it was for most of the 1990's.
When that proposal was refused by Congress there were others that were bundled with Medicare and Social Security reforms. Details of these were really never made public because they never rose to the heights of meaningful legislation.
The most recent proposals are tied to the President's Jobs legislation. The Senate voted on a proposal for incremental tax hikes on marginal income over $1 million in order to pay for spending withing the proposals.
The largest of these was something like a 5% increase in the marginal tax rate -- which would have meant that this income would be taxed at about 40% for federal income tax.
Then there have been varying proposals of lesser percentages to pay for smaller proposals.

The Republicans have stood firm on this because of ideological positions opposing all tax rate increases.
I understand this, but when the power in government is shared and there are two views on the best way to govern, then there needs to be compromise.
It seems that the Republicans have refused to compromise, and the Democrats have reached out and at least seem willing to negotiate their own ideological positions.

I know that it is possible to see facts in different lights.
But I think that what I have just written is mostly a factual account, although very brief, of what has happened politically for the last year or so.

Is there a different way to write these facts that I don't understand?
I know that I must be starting from a very different position than you, but I need to understand what that difference is before I can bridge any gap.

And just one more point. The payroll tax looks like a tax for people making not much money who have their checks cut by 7%. The money goes to the federal government and is used for government programs.
Everyone who works pays that tax.


November 10, 2011 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Experimental Mouse said...

"Men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives."

January 26, 2012 at 8:44 PM  

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Bob Doherty is Senior Vice President, American College of Physicians Government Affairs and Public Policy; Author of the ACP Advocate Blog

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