The Washington Post

Congress, Barack Obama, and the Malia-Sasha middle school test

All homework and no debt ceiling raises make Jack a dull and possibly impecunious boy.

While complaining about Congress’s failure to raise the debt ceiling, Barack Obama noted: “Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time. Malia is 13, Sasha’s 10.”

He continued: “It is impressive. They don’t wait until the night before. They’re not pulling all-nighters. They’re 13 and 10. You know, Congress can do the same thing.”

First of all, I hope D.C.’s most intrepid reporters are fact-checking this! Assuming it’s true, though, why are Malia and Sasha doing their homework a day ahead of time? I don’t know anyone who does that, except for maybe the Chua children, and that is only so they can have more spare time to lovingly decorate their pianos with bite marks.

I would describe myself in middle and high school as somewhere between “cheerfully scrupulous” and “an obnoxious, insufferable workaholic” and even I did not do my homework a day ahead of time. I knew someone who did, but she also color-coded all her notes using a complicated system of multiple highlighters. As a consequence, her only friends were people like me. And I wore the same shirt in different colors every day.

I am not saying that Malia and Sasha should not be doing their homework. Although, if they have enough time for that, they clearly are not extracurricularly involved enough. Don’t they realize that their futures hang in the balance? They should be out teaching catfish about self-expression, or something.

But whether or not it’s accurate, this comment concerns me on a number of levels.

Telling Congress to be more like Malia and Sasha is a slippery slope. First we say Congress should do its homework like middle-school-aged girls, then the next thing we know they’ll be curled up on a couch watching the Teen Choice Awards.

Congress is already too much like middle school. There are the ill-advised sexts. There’s the constant need for attention. The desire to avoid doing the assigned reading. The flights of enthusiasm at the sighting of a putative celebrity. The craving to seem cool and fit in that leads to doing what everyone else wants you to do. The over-dramatized desire to stalk from the room rolling your eyes rather than having a productive discussion. “I’m not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling!” you yell. “And you can’t make me!”

So even if Malia and Sasha are paragons of studiousness who actually do everything a night ahead of time, I hope Congress doesn’t listen to this advice. If it’s this bad when they aren’t trying to be like middle-schoolers, imagine what would happen if they were.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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