Sunday Comics, Schoolhouse Rock and Teaching Partisan Politics

By Nitya

May 21, 2008 4:34pm

ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports: In addition to teaching school kids about the Constitution and trade in government class, maybe there should be a section of the class devoted to about partisan bickering too.

It might be a little more real-life.

Case in point comes from a recent email tiff between Sean Spicer, the Assistant US Trade Representative and Joe Shoemaker, spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

Spicer sent an email Wednesday morning to his normal distribution list, touting this past week’s ‘The Mini Page’, which is like a weekly newspaper for kids folded into the comics section of the newspaper that goes to their parents.

"This past Sunday, in the comics section of papers nationwide (including the Post), was an insert called the Mini Page that explained trade at a children’s level," read Spicer’s email. "If you missed it, it is attached in PDF above. On page 4 there is an explanation of why the Colombia trade agreement is in the best interest of American workers."

The Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which has been a lightening rod for Democratic Presidential candidates as they campaigned in the rust belt earlier this year, was stalled in the House of Representatives by Democrats after President Bush tried to use a procedural maneuver to ram it through.

None of the procedural bickering was mentioned in The Mini Page, but the Colombia Free Trade Agreement was, after a longer section on trade with China in light of the upcoming Olympics, a word finder with trade-themed words, a mini guide to Olympic sports, and a dot to dot drawing exercise.

From The Mini Page: "Countries make trade agreements with other nations to exchange goods and services. For example, the United States has agreed to let Colombia sell products here duty-free, or without tariffs. However, the U.S. pays a tariff to sell goods in Colombia. But the two countries have been negotiating, or discussing, an agreement for duty-free exports to Colombia from the United States."

Spicer is thanked for his help at the end of the item.

Shoemaker read Spicer’s email  about trying to help kids learn about trade, saw the section in The Mini Page and thought it was a thinly veiled attempt to equate those who oppose the Free Trade Agreement with children.

In short, he thought it was condescending. So Shoemaker, who is on Spicer’s email list, hit "reply all" and shot back a condescending email of his own back at Spicer.

"Thank you for your helpful (if somewhat condescending) explanation of trade ‘at a children’s level,’" wrote Shoemaker. "In that vein, I wanted to bring to your attention a series known as Schoolhouse Rock! Between 1973 and 1986 a series of fifty-two educational short films featuring songs about schoolhouse topics (grammar, science, economics, history, mathematics, and politics) were played on ABC Saturday and Sunday morning children’s programs. One of those short films ("I’m Just a Bill") dealt extensively with the legislative process — at a children’s level. If you missed it, it is attached in PDF form above and the hyperlink is: http://www.school-house-rock.com/Bill.html)."

Spicer, who spent 13 years working as a spokesman on Capitol Hill before going to work for US Trade Representative Amb. Susan Schwab said knows how a bill becomes a law, but he meant no harm with his email. He said he sends out ten or more emails a week to his distribution list, said this afternoon that Shoemaker got it all wrong. He didn’t mean to be condescending and couldn’t have made the language in his email any simpler.

"As a communicator I’m pretty proud of the fact that we were able to reach out to children on trade," he said today.

"We’ve gotten too partisan when you can’t send a simple email," he said over the phone this afternoon, adding later, "If you’re offended by the Mini Page you’ve gotten pretty thin skin."

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