Kicking Big Bird out of the nest.
Listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, October 12, 2012.
President Obama is trying to salvage something from an otherwise disastrous debate performance in Denver. That salvage operation has taken the form of going after Mitt Romney for going after Big Bird.
To be certain, Mitt Romney didn’t go after Big Bird per se. Responding to a question regarding how he would address the country’s yawning deficit, Romney said that when it comes to the spending of federal money, he’ll ask himself if the expenditure is so critical as to make it worth borrowing money from China in order to pay for it.
Romney then used the Public Broadcasting System, PBS, as an example of something that doesn’t meet that test of criticality. He acknowledged that Big Bird is a character on Sesame Street, the PBS children’s programming icon. He also acknowledged that debate moderator Jim Lehrer’s day job is that of anchor of NewsHour, the PBS evening news show. He acknowledged that millions of people like Sesame Street and NewsHour.
But then, to his credit, Romney said that public spending on these things will have to go. For once, a politician gave a concrete example, and one with which most Americans are well-familiar, as an example of a public expenditure that will have to be cut if the United States is to avoid financial collapse.
To which I say, it’s about time. At last a politician named something specific that will have to be cut.
From the smoking wreckage of Obama’s debate performance, the Obama campaign thought they had salvaged something useful. A real gaffe, in their estimation, picking on Big Bird. So the Obama campaign let loose this mocking, condescending commercial in television markets in the swing states.
Apparently, someone in the Obama campaign believes that juxtaposing Wall Street and Sesame Street constitutes clever copywriting. It’s no such thing. It’s predictable and is a non-sequitur anyway. Romney wasn’t defending the excesses of Wall Street. He was making a statement on how he would prioritize national spending. In Governor Romney’s estimation, PBS does not constitute a national priority worthy of an annual federal expenditure of close to half a billion dollars. On this, Romney is entirely correct.
When it comes to the issue of spending money on PBS there are two inescapable facts. The first is that Sesame Street is a third of a billion dollar enterprise that enjoys huge commercial success. If Sesame Street can’t survive without a federal subsidy, nothing can and we should simply cut to the chase and nationalize the entire private economy.
Second, the original justification for “public broadcasting” is long gone. Where there were at most three TV channels available to most households, a fourth channel dedicated to “educational” programming and devoid of commercials sorta-kinda made sense.
But today, channels that are available in just about every American household, such as Discovery, TLC, NatGeo, Bravo and others, are offering thoughtful, entertaining and highly informative programs that are light years better than the British sitcoms and endless re-runs of long-dead shows from the early days of commercial television – think Lawrence Welk – that constitute the bulk of PBS’s schedule.
Snarky, too-clever-by-half Obama campaign commercials notwithstanding, what Romney was saying is simply this. If a country that is more broke than any country has ever been in all of history cannot bring itself to reduce even the most trivial expenses, it has no hope at all of ever getting its house in order and retaining its status as a world power.
That’s a message Americans need to hear.
It’s the kind of message that leaders have the courage to deliver.