Mr. Rogers Goes to Congress and Saves PBS: Heartwarming Video from 1969

What kind of delu­sion­al self-aggran­diz­er, called to tes­ti­fy before a Unit­ed States Sen­ate Sub­com­mit­tee, uses it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to quote the lyrics of a song he’s writ­ten… in their entire­ty!?

Sounds like the work of a cer­tain rapper/prospective polit­i­cal can­di­date or per­haps some daffy buf­foon as brought to life by Ben Stiller or Will Fer­rell.

Only children’s tele­vi­sion host Fred Rogers could pull such a stunt and emerge unscathed, nay, even more beloved, as he does above in doc­u­men­tary footage from 1969.

Mis­ter Rogers’ impulse to recite What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel to then-chair­man of the Sub­com­mit­tee on Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Sen­a­tor John Pas­tore, was ulti­mate­ly an act of ser­vice to the Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing and its child view­ers.

New­ly elect­ed Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon opposed pub­lic tele­vi­sion, believ­ing that its lib­er­al bent could only under­mine his admin­is­tra­tion. Deter­mined to strike first, he pro­posed cuts equal to half its $20 mil­lion annu­al oper­at­ing bud­get, a mea­sure that would have seri­ous­ly hob­bled the fledg­ling insti­tu­tion.

Mr. Rogers appeared before the Com­mit­tee armed with a “philo­soph­i­cal state­ment” that he refrained from read­ing aloud, not wish­ing to monop­o­lize ten min­utes of the Committee’s time. Instead, he sought Pas­tore’s promise that he would give it a close read lat­er, speak­ing so slow­ly and with such lit­tle out­ward guile, that the tough nut Sen­a­tor was moved to crack, “Would it make you hap­py if you did read it?”

Rather than tak­ing the bait, Rogers touched on the ways his show’s bud­get had grown thanks to the pub­lic broad­cast­ing mod­el. He also hipped Pas­tore to the qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence between fre­net­ic kid­die car­toons and the vast­ly more thought­ful and emo­tion­al­ly healthy con­tent of pro­gram­ming such as his. Mr. Roger’s Neigh­bor­hood was a place where such top­ics as hair­cuts, sib­ling rela­tion­ships, and angry feel­ings could be dis­cussed in depth.

Rogers’ emo­tion­al intel­li­gence seems to hyp­no­tize Pas­tore, whose chal­leng­ing front was soon dropped in favor of a more respect­ful line of ques­tion­ing. By the end of Rogers’ heart­felt, non-musi­cal ren­di­tion of What Do You Do… (it’s much pep­pi­er in the orig­i­nal), Pas­tore has goose­bumps, and the Cor­po­ra­tion for Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing has its 2 mil’ back in the bag.

What do you do with the mad that you feel

When you feel so mad you could bite?

When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…

And noth­ing you do seems very right?

What do you do? Do you punch a bag?

Do you pound some clay or some dough?

Do you round up friends for a game of tag?

Or see how fast you go?

It’s great to be able to stop

When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,

And be able to do some­thing else instead

And think this song:

I can stop when I want to

Can stop when I wish.

I can stop, stop, stop any time.

And what a good feel­ing to feel like this

And know that the feel­ing is real­ly mine.

Know that there’s some­thing deep inside

That helps us become what we can.

For a girl can be some­day a woman

And a boy can be some­day a man.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mr. Rogers Intro­duces Kids to Exper­i­men­tal Elec­tron­ic Music by Bruce Haack & Esther Nel­son (1968)

Mr. Rogers Takes Break­danc­ing Lessons from a 12-Year-Old (1985)

Pup­pet Mak­ing with Jim Hen­son: A Price­less Primer from 1969

Ayun Hal­l­i­day’s new play, Fawn­book, debuts as part of the Bad The­ater Fes­ti­val in NYC tomor­row night. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (4)
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  • Rain,adustbowlstory says:

    I have a vivid mem­o­ry of Mr. Rogers at some rewards show, in which a hand­i­capped kid who had appeared on his show is brought onto the reward stage for a kind of reunion. It was a sur­prise to Rogers and he com­plete­ly ungrace­ful­ly lit­er­al­ly clam­bers over seats in the audi­ence to get to that boy.

    I nev­er for­got it.

  • Sebastian A. says:

    Miss him — I was already a teen when his show was pop­u­lar but I had younger sib­lings that watched his show — and I was mes­mer­ized too. It hurts that there aren’t more peo­ple like him in pub­lic life. What a great place this would be.

  • Malena S. says:

    I grew up in the inner city of Chica­go. Many times in my day, his words where the only kind words I heard. Mr. Rogers not only gave me the words for feel­ings but my inter­est in men­tal health was very like­ly sparked dur­ing these days. Thanks for let­ting me lis­ten in, Mr. Rogers.

  • Yvonne N. says:

    This is a ben­e­fi­cial show to help chil­dren to express
    their inner feel­ings in place of act­ing out in soci­ety
    in anger.Our lead­ers are a bad exam­ple of show­ing how we
    should get along in spite of our dif­fer­ences

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