“Let them have gun laws! Let them have weed! Let them decide the things that they need! And if you’re totally convinced that there should be just 50 states, well then let’s all kick out Florida, ‘cause no one thinks they’re great.”
So sang John Oliver surrounded by 19 little kids on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, as the grand finale to a 17-minute segment on D.C. statehood. The comedian began with video clips of the iconic 50-states song, in which schoolchildren list all the states in the U.S. in alphabetical order (spoiler: Lamb Chop makes an appearance). Then, Oliver turned to an issue we’re all too familiar with: “Taxation without representation,” citing a 2006 film whose narrator explains 100-percent soberly that “The Chinese pandas at the National Zoo have as much right to representation in the U.S. Congress as any resident in the District of Columbia.”
“Okay, but to be fair, that is probably for the best,” Oliver quipped. “We don’t need those pandas participating in representative democracy. We need them [expletive]…They’re endangered!”
The show—broadcast every Sunday at 11 p.m. on HBO—brings the statehood-debate national attention that it usually doesn’t receive on a weekly (or even monthly) basis. As of September 2014, Last Week Tonight was registering an average of 4.1 million weekly viewers from TV airings, DVR, and on-demand plays. (In case you were wondering, that’s more than six times the population of D.C. Oliver actually addressed the District’s population, which is larger than that of Vermont and Wyoming. Its gross domestic product is larger than those of 16 states.)
The U.S. is the only democracy in the world where citizens of the capital do not have full voting rights, Oliver said. Discussing non-voting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Oliver went on to say, “She basically has pretend power, like a child watching Dora the Explorer…For more than two decades, she’s introduced bill after bill to grant D.C. either statehood or a vote in Congress.” (A hilarious—and somewhat frightening—clip of Norton shouting down a fellow member of Congress while advocating for District statehood in 2007 follows, at 4:01. “I will not yield, Sir!”)
Oliver is entertaining as he ticks off the District’s battles with Congress: he discusses the history of D.C.’s voting struggles (5:40), local autonomy (6:15), marijuana legalization (7:00), needle-exchange program to combat HIV (8:55), and infamous “riders” attached to Congressional legislation that often end up compromising the District’s self-determination (11:00). “It seems that Congress just forces riders on D.C. whenever they disapprove of how they’re spending their own money,” Oliver argued matter-of-factly. “They are treating more than 600,000 people right now like children.”
There’s a certain historical irony in a Brit calling for statehood, but, hey, we ain’t complaining.
If you want to sing along with Oliver and the kids, here are the lyrics. (begins at 15:10):
Kids: Alabama and Alaska,
Connecticut and more
There are 50 states in total
And we’ll sing their names with glee
But there’s one place that gets shafted
And it’s Washington, D.C.
Oliver: That’s right kids. Now be more specific about the problem.
Kids: All the rest of us can choose a path
That we think is best
But any choice that D.C. makes
Is easily suppressed
‘Cause some asshole with a rider
Who might live in Tennessee
Can destroy a needle program
For preventing HIV.
Oliver: It’s true. It’s horrifying but it’s true. What are some solutions?
Kids: Let them have gun laws!
Let them have weed!
Let them decide
The things that they need
And if you’re totally convinced
That there should be just 50 states
Well, then let’s all kick out Florida
‘Cause no one thinks they’re great
Oh, yes, let’s all kick out Florida
‘Cause no one thinks they’re great