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Cruz critics call 'Green Eggs' reading rotten

Sen. Ted Cruz does not like Obamacare, he does not like it anywhere – but would the senator mind it, if only he could try it?

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That's what some Democrats are wondering after Cruz chose to read Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham" to his two young daughters from the Senate floor around their 8 p.m. bedtime on Tuesday, near the beginning of an all-night speech denouncing the president's health care law.

The story, after all, is a parable about how a stubborn, Grinch-like character insists that he hates green eggs and ham – until he is finally convinced to try them.

Cruz's dramatic reading prompted a round of mocking political poetry on Twitter.

"Ted would not go to bed. Hoping to strengthen Tea Party cred," wrote David Plouffe, a former senior White House adviser and the president's campaign manager in 2008. "To Iowa he soon fled. But Obamacare will never be dead."

But there was a broader critique too. Like everyone else in the country, Cruz hasn't had a chance to try out health care under the new law. The state-based exchanges that will be used to buy insurance open next Tuesday.

"I don't know if he read it," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., charged on Wednesday during a press conference after Cruz had finally left the floor. "Because 'Green Eggs and Ham' has a moral: don't criticize something, don't reject something, until you actually try it."

“I went to the University of Missouri, I did not go to Harvard," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Wednesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. "But I’ll tell you that my daughter texted me this morning and said ‘Mom, does he not know the point of the story?’”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (C) speaks to members of the media as he comes out from the Senate Chamber after he spoke on the floor for more than 21 hours September 25, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Asked about why he chose to read "Green Eggs and Ham," Cruz on Wednesday said there was no larger ideological point to reading the story.

“It just was my favorite story as a kid," he said as he was climbing into his car and leaving the Capitol. "And my girls like it.”

But scholars of Dr. Seuss – full name Theodor Seuss Geisel – also found Cruz’s choice confusing, noting that ideas of compromise and mutual understanding run throughout Dr. Seuss’s body of work, especially “Green Eggs and Ham.”

“The moral message of ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ – to the extent that it has one – is completely at odds with what Cruz was trying to achieve,” says Seuss biographer Phil Nel, a professor at Kansas State University.

Written in 1960 as a response to a challenge by his editor to write a book using fewer than 50 words, “Green Eggs and Ham” didn’t have an explicitly political message, says Nel. But many of Seuss’s other works did.

“The Butter Battle Book” was an allegory for Reagan’s escalation of the nuclear arms race, and the story “The Sneetches” – about a community of yellow creatures divided by prejudice over a meaningless physical characteristic – was inspired by Seuss’s disgust with anti-Semitism. “Yurtle the Turtle” took lessons from World War Two and the murderous reign of Adolf Hitler.

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, seated at desk covered with his books. Al Ravenna / World Telegram & Sun

And Seuss didn’t hesitate to speak up when he thought his message had been misappropriated. In the 1980s, he threatened to sue an anti-abortion group that used the line – “A person’s a person, no matter how small” – from the pro-tolerance book “Horton Hears a Who.”

Dr. Charles Cohen, a “Seussologist” who has written five books about the children’s author and works as a dentist in Massachusetts, says Seuss was a registered Democrat who tended to espouse liberal themes like “ecology, nuclear brinksmanship, consumerism and greed, tolerance , the virtues of patience and the imagination.”

But, Cohen adds “his point was these should be common sense things that the whole world should be able to agree to.”

Still, the Seuss world appears united in saying that Cruz – and Congress as a whole – could learn something from the lessons of “Green Eggs and Ham.”

“I think Dr. Seuss would find the Senate and the Congress much in need of reading and understanding his entire corpus of children’s books,” said Donald Pease, a professor of English at Dartmouth University and the author of a biography of Geisel. “Because they’re behaving like Sneetches.”