How infomercial inventors could help Congress end shutdown

If only the inventors of infomercial products like the Side Socket and Flex Seal could help Congress end the shutdown and extend the debt ceiling. Their American ingenuity would find the budget solution and sell it to us for $19.99 plus shipping and handling.

Al Behrman/AP
Protesters organize outside the offices of House Speaker John Boehner in West Chester, Ohio, Oct. 15 as the government shutdown entered its third week and the debt ceiling limit approached. Op-ed contributor Jim Sollisch writes: 'No wonder only 5 percent of Americans approve of [Congress]...Funding the government? How hard is that? Certainly not as hard as tackling the issue of pet hair in homes."

The other night I couldn’t sleep. Not surprising considering that I live in a country without a functioning government. My mind danced and jerked its way around subjects too arcane and numerous to enumerate: contaminated food slipping in unnoticed by furloughed food inspectors, my passport renewal languishing in legislative limbo, national parks I suddenly had to visit now that they were shuttered.

So I did what insomniacs do and turned to the comfort of late night TV. I was past the hour they call late night. Past even the extra innings of West Coast playoff baseball. There are channels, I know, that aren’t governed by the laws of time and geography, movie channels and places where Seinfeld is always wearing that puffy shirt. But I wasn’t surfing for those.

Instead, I pressed on, remote in hand, till I entered the land of possibility and enchantment: the Great American Infomercial, utopia available in some cases for as little as $19.99. And yes, I know they get you with the shipping and handling, but that’s fine. Bring it on. A small price to pay for such ingenuity.

Sure there are problems here in infomercial land, but they exist only to be solved. It’s a can-do world. Finally, a solution to the problem of electrical cords sticking straight out of outlets forcing your furniture out into the room. I didn’t know that was a problem, but what an elegant, glorious solution. Introducing the Side Socket.

Flex Seal can seal a hole in a rowboat while you’re out on the lake. Yes, I know, it is amazing. And it’s so easy to use. Look, he’s doing that repair in real time.

I love infomercials. Always have. They encapsulate the best of America. With a little ingenuity, you can go from rags to riches. Build a better way to fix a leaky rowboat and you can end up with a yacht. What’s a more American story than that? We are gadget-lovers. We are impressed beyond reason with the Grabit Screw Extractor, the Hanger Cascader, the Slap Chopper. And we don’t mind a bit of hyperbolic shouting with our whiz bangery.

The Side Socket genius has finished his pitch and I go looking for the next great thing. I pause at a 24-hour news channel. The government is still broken. But I have come from the land of possibility, and so I expect a bright-eyed inventor – or energetic spokesperson – to get on and talk about a new product that will end the impasse. The Filibuster Buster. Or the Continuing Resolution-izer.

No wonder only 5 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. They can’t figure out how to keep the National Parks open, and there are Americans out there solving far stickier problems, like how to get rid of lint in your dryer (just use the Lint Lizard). Funding the government? How hard is that? Certainly not as hard as tackling the issue of pet hair in homes. Some industrious American invented the Furminator.

If only we didn't have to rely on McConnell and Reid or Obama and Boehner. If only we could get the guys who can really solve problems into a room together – the Side Socket inventor and the geniuses behind Flex Seal and Slap Chopper. These guys would get it done, pronto, American style. They’d find the solution, and they’d sell it to us. And we’d trust them to lead us to a better life.

Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.

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