By Karl Kurtz
"We need to get our campaign to improve public understanding of representative democracy into pop culture! How about if we write a song about the legislative process?" So said the late Alan Rosenthal, professor of political science at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, in a phone conversation more than 10 years ago. A few days later, I received the following e-mail message:
I have started thinking of lyrics and will consult with some talented people I know in NJ (former students). We will see how far we can get.
So far, these are the ideas, words:
Why can't people all agree?
Because they see things differently.
How special are all those interests we see?
They're very special, since they include you and me.
Do legislators we elect care a rap about their constituency?
You better believe they do--otherwise they're history.
Why doesn't the legislature cut out the fuss and fight?
The problem is that different people think they're right.
But it takes so long to get things done.
That's because you need 50% plus one.
The system isn't perfect, and it never will be.
It's messy, it's human, but it works remarkably.
I have finally found my calling.
Unfortunately, neither Alan nor I did anything with these lyrics that so admirably capture the key messages of NCSL's Trust for Representative Democracy and the America's Legislators Back to School program.
After Alan's death, his wife, Lynda Kresge, discovered this old e-mail message and passed it on to Ruth Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute. Ruth and her team came up with the idea of asking Ginger Gold Schnitzer, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Education Association and a former student of Alan's, to put the lyrics to music and to perform it at the Eagleton Institute's celebration of Alan's life and career.
Alan wanted something more sophisticated and informative than the venerable "I'm Just a Bill" from Schoolhouse Rock, which first aired in 1975. He succeeded remarkably, and this song is a suitable closing to our celebration of a great friend, supporter and Pied Piper of NCSL and America's state legislatures.
A video of the entire celebration of Alan's life and career--all two hours, nine minutes and 13 seconds of it--is now available on YouTube. Fortunately, the editor inserted bookmarks for each of the 20 speakers so that viewers who want to sample different speeches, including ones by such luminaries as former U.S. senators Alan Simpson and Paul Sarbanes, may do so.