October 10 2012

Big Bird Is a Critically Important Issue in 2012

Carrie L. Lukas

The Obama Campaign is rightfully being mocked for the idiotic “Big Bird” ad, which is not funny and fails to make any discernible policy point or criticism of Gov. Romney. 

Presumably it’s meant to make fun of Romney for wanting to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, when there are so many other more important issues to consider.  Yet it doesn’t even effectively carry that message, instead throwing around references to “Wall Street” to allude to some bigger, ill-defined evil.  Democrats have also tried to riff off the idea that Romney just loves to fire people, and therefore wants to send Big Bird into unemployment. 

We brainless moms are supposed to be horrified by this prospect – what on Earth would we do if we couldn’t park our kids in front of Sesame Street?  We are told that particularly for low-income parents in particular the programming on PBS is their only educational option.

The Romney campaign has responded, mostly by highlighting how bizarre it is that the Administration has nothing to say about Libya, but has spent the post-debate week running ads about Big Bird.    

Certainly this sorry attempt to capitalize on Romney’s Big Bird comment does indicate a campaign and President desperate to distract from the big issues of the day, and unable to articulate a positive agenda for the next four years.

Yet I’d argue that the Big Bird debate is and should be central to this election.  I’m serious:  this debate perfectly encapsulates the larger question about the role of government in the economy and our society.

First, the idea that somehow depriving CPB with taxpayer money would lead to Big Bird’s extinction is absurd and shows a profound lack of understanding for how business operates in America.  Big Bird is an icon so well-recognized that the Obama campaign knew merely showing his shadow during an advertisement would be enough for Americans to know the subject matter.  American households are littered with Big Bird figures, stuffed animals, puzzles and Sesame Street books.  If Big Bird and Sesame Street is not commercially viable without government support what is?

Secondly, as pointed out on National Review, far from being some charity that’s barely scrapping by, CPB is so well-funded that its top executives rake in six-figure paychecks, with the head of Sesame Street barely falling short of a million dollar annual salary.  Haven’t American taxpayers had enough of this phony idea that taxpayers always have to cough up more to support these government “public servants” who more often than not make far more than the average American working in the private sector?   

Finally, the idea that low-income families would otherwise be forced to subject their kids to adult programming absent PBS is also ludicrous.  Most families living in poverty have either cable or satellite television, DVD players, as well as a gaming system like Xbox.  That means that they have access to all sorts of kids entertainment options, including the many programs from Blue’s Clues to Dora, Diego, Little Bear, Thomas the Train, Bob the Builder, and the list could go on and on…  and all of those shows seem just as vaguely educational as  Sesame Street.   Why should this one crop of cartoons and children’s shows created by CPB be subsidized, making it harder for these for-profit companies, not on government dole, to compete?

Yes, government subsidies for CPB are a small speck of sand in our vast desert of government spending.  Defunding Sesame Street wouldn’t do terribly much to close our deficit.  Yet we have to start somewhere, not only to begin the massive process of reducing the deficit, but to get government out of areas in which there is absolutely no legitimate reason for it to exist.

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