An 11-year-old from Portland, Ore., tried to sell mistletoe at a public park last weekend. But rather than making a little money to pitch in for her braces, Madison Root became the center of a media maelstrom—after a park guard said she couldn’t operate a business without a permit, under city code, instead suggesting she could simply ask people for donations.
The girl’s father, upset that his daughter could legally beg but not engage in commerce on the public property, aired his grievances to local TV station KATU. Since the outlet told Madison’s tale on Sunday, the station had fielded orders for mistletoe from all over the nation, someone has offered her $1,000 in seed money and the Portland mayor has announced that he’s reviewing the city code. Begging, a local parks official said, is protected as a form of free speech.
The situation could hardly be better designed to ignite passions about America being a welfare state, about young Americans being raised to depend on handouts rather than locating their bootstraps and giving them a good yank. For her part, Madison is playing perfectly into the political subtext of her story. ”It’s not about the mistletoe,” she said in a follow-up interview with KATU. “And it’s not about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about how we’re raising wimps, how people would rather beg for money than work hard!”
A few details detract from the story’s outrage-stirring underdog drama: Madison was told she could sell her mistletoe nearby, just beyond the boundary of the park. And her family isn’t sinking in the quicksands of poverty—they didn’t need any additional money for the braces. The local organization that approves vendors in the park has also invited her to return, without paying the normal permit fee.
But those details are easily eclipsed by headlines like this one from Fox News: “Orders for mistletoe pour in after Oregon girl told she can’t sell them, but can beg for money at city park.” Given her comfort in front of camera, it wouldn’t be surprising to see young, braces-clad Madison Root out stumping for pro-business politicians in 2014. For that matter, her oratory wouldn’t be out of place on stage at the next Republican National Convention.
In time, we shall see if this snafu has birthed a star. Meanwhile, it seems Madison will be struggling to fill more than $3,000 worth of orders for the classic holiday plants, which she had picked from her uncle’s nearby farm. “There was never enough mistletoe for this,” her father told KATU.