WASHINGTON — For someone who has supposedly been “canceled,” Dr. Seuss is having a pretty good run. Last Tuesday, the company that oversees the estate of the beloved children’s author announced that it would no longer publish six of his books because they contained racist images. Outrage followed — much of it from conservatives — and within hours, the Amazon bestseller list was dominated by Seuss, with more than half of its top 100 bestsellers belonging to the author of “The Cat in the Hat” (the top-selling book on Amazon) and “Green Eggs and Ham” (No. 2).
Even as a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill headed toward President Biden’s desk, Republicans continued to obsess over Dr. Seuss. They are a party that has been dispossessed of power in Washington, watching as their Democratic counterparts pass legislation that is both consequential and popular. Giving people money does tend to poll well, and Republicans have been desperate to find an issue that will throw Biden off course.
They may have found that issue on Mulberry Street. Talking about children’s books in the middle of a pandemic may seem like an unserious countermove, but the right has long believed in Andrew Breitbart’s dictum that “politics is downstream from culture.”
Winning the war over Dr. Seuss and other icons of American culture, some conservatives believe, could be their path back to congressional majorities and eventually the White House. The National Republican Congressional Committee is sending copies of “The Cat in the Hat” to every person who donates $25 or more to its election coffers. “We need you to help save Dr. Seuss from the radical left,” declares the fundraising pitch, which includes a questionable attempt at poetry.
“Look, it’s definitely not mainstream America. It’s not where the voters are at,” NRCC Chair Tom Emmer, R-Minn., told Yahoo News. “They're making a huge mistake.” As far as Emmer and many other conservatives are concerned, effacing American icons like Dr. Seuss is part of that agenda.
That the decision to stop printing six of his books was made by a private corporation unrelated to the Democratic Party seems to make no difference. “Americans are much smarter than that,” Emmer said.
Some on the left think the Democratic Party should tend more carefully to cultural issues, even as it shores up the economy. “You do not want to be the political party canceling Lincoln,” a veteran Democratic strategist told Yahoo News, referring to a school board in San Francisco that recently made (then dropped) an attempt to remove Abraham Lincoln’s name from a public school because of his treatment of Native Americans.
These developments have been fodder to some Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has embraced the Seuss controversy, even as she seeks to broaden gun rights, curb protections for transgender people and impeach Biden. Asked for comment, Greene replied in her own attempt at Seussian rhyme:
If I published books, I wouldn’t succumb to leftists’ dirty looks.
I would never cancel the author of Cat in the Hat.
Nope, I would never do that.
If I ran the House, I would fire Pelosi. It would make the place a lot more cozy.
I would impeach Joe Biden, and send him back into hidin’.
Woke progressives want cancel culture, they’re just a bunch of nasty vultures.
Each jab by someone like Greene is meant to box Democrats into a corner. So the reconsideration of television police drama is supposedly evidence that political progressives and cultural elites want to “cancel” the very idea of law enforcement, as Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., put it.
To engage with the argument is to lose it, but to let such accusations proliferate unchecked could allow Republicans to spin a damaging narrative. Either way, Democrats could find themselves heading down a “not-so-good street,” as Dr. Seuss once put it.
Biden does not want to defund the police, as he has made clear. That won’t stop Republicans from seizing on any evidence, no matter how slight, that “middle-class Joe” is really a culture warrior in disguise.
As far as the Seuss controversy goes, it didn’t exactly help that the announcement about the six titles in question came on National Read Across America Day, which coincides with the March 2 birthday of Theodore Geisel, as Dr. Seuss was known in the real world (he died in 1991). Biden’s proclamation for the quasi-holiday contained no mention of Seuss, unlike similar proclamations by Obama and Trump. That was enough evidence for conservatives that it was all his doing.
“Who knew Joe Biden was such a great book seller,” tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, appending his message with an image of an all-Seuss list of Amazon’s top 10 best-selling books.