Ways Congress is Like my Son’s Cub Scout Troop


As I prepare to leave work at little early today (shhhh…don’t tell the boss) to help set up the Pinewood Derby Track at my son’s Cub Scout troop, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how Congress is pretty much exactly like my son’s Cub Scout Troop.

Boy, age 7, in scout uniform.
Boy, age 7, in scout uniform.
  • There is a leader, but nobody really listens to him: If it’s been a while since you’ve been to a Cub Scout meeting let me remind you what it’s like. There is a lot of noise, some yelling and a huge scrum of people trying to get organized and decide on a plan of action. Sometimes there is even some crying. At the head of it all is an incredibly patient leader trying to do what is best for the collective interest of the troop. Ultimately the leader doesn’t have a significant amount of leverage over the children. He doesn’t control their allowance, can’t ground them and can’t take away their TV privileges. The only ones who can do that are the kids’ parents—their one true constituency. It is when this group gets involved and puts limits on their childrens’ behavior that the leader can lead.
  • There are a lot of impediments to action: Getting a whole troop motivated is tough, but there are certain things that get done each year, no matter what. We go camping at least three times; we sell popcorn; we have the Pinewood Derby. These long standing actions get done. Kind of like raising the debt ceiling, passing a budget, or having a State of the Union speech. Recently we tried to add another activity on short notice. One parent took the lead. He solicited enough people to get involved. He arranged times, locations, and other important details. But he was stymied at the last minute when an unforeseen complication arose. Cub Scout troops don’t move fast, like Congress, because there are often too many barriers to acting quickly.
  • There are rules, but some are looking for an extra edge: The rules of the Pinewood Derby are clear, straightforward and pretty basic. But take a look on the Internet and you’ll see all manner of instructional videos on how to get an edge. You can find out how to polish the axles for less resistance and you can learn how to shave your wheels down for more speed. There are even designs for the fastest cars. Beyond speed, there is instruction on how to make your car shine. Three coats of primer, sand down the flaws, two coats of paint, and then cover with car wax and buff to a high shine. Sounds like a plan for finding “the perfect candidate.” Come race day a car may end up being a racehorse, show horse or an also ran. The few who look for outside advice and spend the time to get the edge—they end up the winners.
  • Ultimately, despite it all, good people get involved: Our troop meets on Friday nights. After a long week, going to a meeting at 6:30 on a Friday night is the last thing some of us want to do. But we do because we know it’s not about us, it’s about the next generation. We have different backgrounds, different jobs and interests, and our kids are all different, but we come together to make sure they have unique opportunities to expand their horizons, learn new skills, and become better people. They could be doing other things, but they got involved—they’re trying to make a difference. Just like Congress.

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