Childish fun — the good kind — needed on Capitol grounds

  • Saturday, February 6, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and D.C.’s delegate in the U.S. House, is on to something big.

A longtime champion of civil rights and free speech issues, she has a clear mastery of common sense. You see, the west side of the U.S. Capitol grounds has long been the place for sledding when the occasional snowstorm hits Washington — one of D.C.’s few hills steep enough to give riders a thrill.

Is there a better sight reflecting our great country’s freedom than children and others flocking to Congress’ back yard to ride sleds, build snowmen and throw snowballs?

Well, the Capitol police said “bah humbug” to all that in 2001. Worried about sledding accidents — and surely worried about lawsuits in the world’s most litigious city — they banned west-side sledding 20 years ago.

The ban was still in effect in early March 2015, but kids got away with defying it one snowy day back then, according to The Hill, which noted that Norton thanked Capitol police for not enforcing their no-fun rule.

Later in 2015, Norton successfully added language into a federal spending bill that once again permitted winter fun on the Capitol grounds.

But last week, Capitol police banned west-side sledding again.

“Unfortunately, due to the current security posture, COVID-19 restrictions and the deconstruction of the inaugural platform, we cannot permit sledding on the Capitol Complex at this time,” Eva Malecki, Capitol police communications director, told NBC’s local Washington TV station.

That’s why Norton’s rising to the challenge again.

In a statement, she says: “Children across America have endured an extremely challenging year, and D.C. children in particular have not only endured the coronavirus pandemic but now the militarization of their city, with the hostile symbols of fences and barbed wire. Sledding is a simple, childhood thrill. It is the least we can allow for our resilient children this winter season.”

But Norton should go further. She should demand that every member of Congress, and every congressional staff member, be required to ride sleds, build snowmen and throw snowballs — right now — on the west side of the Capitol.

Way too many of these “leaders” exhibit childhood’s worst qualities — childishness, pettiness and brattiness. It would do them good to frolic in the snow, relearning and embracing children’s best qualities.

Those qualities are summed up well in Robert Fulghum’s essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

“Share everything,” he writes.

Politicians must embrace our shared responsibility by debating ideas civilly — by working out agreements as well-mannered adults. Not like the things they’re doing now.

“Play fair,” writes Fulghum.

Attempts to destroy or discredit political opponents with hyperbole and unsubstantiated accusations only lather up half the country and alienate the other half. Such cynical dishonesty drives us apart, making it harder to find orderly, sensible solutions.

“Don’t hit people” is another of Fulghum’s insights.

Unfounded cheap shots have to stop. Calling people “Nazis” just because you dislike them or disagree with their ideas does more to discredit this overused label than it does to discredit your targets.

Washington badly needs civility and common sense right now. I say put Norton in charge of the “Sledding to Make Congress Better Committee” immediately.

I told you she was on to something big.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at

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