The Red and Blue Fantasies Behind the Big Bird War

  • Share
  • Read Later
Michael Reynolds / Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.

There is a reason conservatives dream of cutting funding for Big Bird, but it has nothing to do with Sesame Street or the best friend of Mr. Snuffleupagus. Behind the big yellow fowl is a fantasy: the idea that the federal budget can be balanced by doing away with wasteful ephemera that no one really needs. “I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too,” Romney said at the first debate to Jim Lehrer, the moderator. “But I’m not gonna keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”

And there is a reason the Obama campaign is latching onto Big Bird at this late moment in the campaign, after nearly a year of Romney using his Sesame Street line on the stump. Democrats imagine the President’s disastrous debate performance can be salvaged to drive the message that Mitt Romney is Rich “Uncle” Pennybags, the rapacious capitalist who wants to bulldoze Sesame Street, replace it with an equestrian park and send the neighborhood kids to a sweatshop in China, where they can make little Big Bird dolls for half the cost.

Here’s the ad, which may be pulled soon, because the bird is not happy about being a political pawn:

Romney and Obama are hoping to use the feathery creature — a creation of one of America’s greatest artistic minds — to deliver their distorted messages. As the Hollywood Reporter tells us, the Bird can cut through the clutter. According to TiVo, which is apparently tracking everything its customers do,* “more TiVo users rewound and rewatched that moment than any other in the debate.” In other words, Big Bird crosses the blood-brain barrier faster than tax rates and entitlement debates. It has become the preferred political delivery vehicle of the day.

What about the substance? Well, there are a few things to point out. First of all, the red fantasy is just that. The only way to balance the budget over the long term, absent a remarkable rise in GDP growth all politicians promise but rarely deliver, is to raise taxes or cut spending on entitlements and defense, which make up most of the federal budget. Big Bird and his Public Broadcasting empire is less than peanuts, or about one-hundreth of one percent of the federal budget. It costs about $1.35 per American per year. Cut Big Bird tomorrow, and all the federal funding to public broadcasting — and the federal budget deficit, which is running at $1.33 trillion this year, or about 5% of the nation’s entire GDP — would remain unchanged in any meaningful way.

To put it another way, if you stopped borrowing $445 million a year to pay for PBS, you would succeed in reducing the 2012 budget deficit by 0.03%. It’s certainly more than nothing, but it would be far more meaningful if Romney spoke about other things he would do to close the budget deficit.

Of course, Romney benefits from the fact that most Americans don’t know the numbers. According to a CNN poll last year, just 27% of Americans know that the public-broadcasting tab is less than 1% of government spending. Seven percent of the country actually told pollsters that the public-broadcasting tab was more than half of the federal budget. Sit with that fact a moment.

As for the Obama ad, it’s kind of funny, which is basically what it has going for it. Beyond that, it’s self parody, the kind of attack ad the Colbert PAC would run. Is the Obama campaign claiming that one can’t both oppose funding for PBS and support regulation of Wall Street? The implication here is that Romney has only so much bandwidth. My guess is, even Elmo would find fault with that line of thinking.

Maybe there can be a silver lining to all of this. Maybe the great Big Bird distraction can be used for some good. Maybe that good can be as simple as the following: Read this post by Ezra Klein analyzing the least TiVoed moments from the first debate.

*UPDATE Oct. 10: A spokesman for TiVo contacted me to make clear that TiVo does not keep data on individual viewing habits, but rather aggregate data of viewer habits that is collected anonymously. I never said otherwise, but didn’t want to leave the wrong impression with my “everything its customers do” crack.

18 comments
Louise Noyb
Louise Noyb

.03%? Romney could pay that and not even miss it.

Joseph Beverly
Joseph Beverly

The Great Deceiver's days are numbered. Romney/Ryan will turn America around. And with your vote they will do it. Pass on. Do your part. Help save the American Dream. We know that Obama is an excuse maker and "The Great Deceiver" in the tradition of Chicago's Saul Alinsky ("Rules for Radicals"). Obama is never wrong. And when things don't go right he and his staff blame others. It's been Bush! Bush! Bush! Republicans! Republicans! Republicans! for four years. Even today, after almost a full term as President, Obama still fails to take responsibility for our dismal economy, lack of jobs, poor pay, etc. He compulsively blame others for the lousy economy that he promised to fix. And now he wants four more years to do more of the same. Einstein said, "Insanity is doing the same things over-and-over and expecting a different result." The Democratic Convention was a good example of their deception. They brought up one straw-man after another – to attack, criticize and lie about. Informed listeners worldwide were not fooled – but too many party loyalists simply drank the Kool-Aid and celebrated. Finally, during the first debate, Romney was able to set the record straight. He will not increase taxes on the middle class. The wealthy will continue to pay the same taxes as in the past. Social Security will not be changed for those 55 and older. Social Security will be saved from insolvency for younger workers and will be there when they retire. The economy will be turned around – 12 million jobs will be created – the budget will be brought into balance – the national debt will be reduced – spending will be brought into balance – the military will be return to full strength – discretionary and unaffordable government programs will be curtails – educational support will continue – the poor and needy will continue to be cared for – the American Dream will be reinstated – etc. The days of naïve, schoolboy management of our government and military will be brought to an end. American Exceptionalism will be restored as a priority. Hey! Let's be honest. Obama, "The Great Deceiver," is totally over his head. As we saw during the first presidential debate, he is uninformed and does not understand the inner workings of government, the economy, business, and executive leadership. Obama has failed to bring the country together as he promised in 2008, but rather he has divided it into classes – some to be supported – others to be savaged. He cannot run on his record and therefore must brutally attacked those who he deems as opponents. He not only attacks their record and their agenda, but even their personality. Frankly, he uses Chicago political tactics as does his vice president, Joe Biden, and his campaign director, David Axelrod. Obama has gone from “Hope and Change” to “Fear and Smear.” America understandably made an enormous mistake in 2008 by electing an inexperienced Barack Obama. Americans were anxious to demonstrate their lack of racist tendencies and their admiration for this young, articulate, charismatic upstart. Also, the goodwill created during his speech at the 2004 Democrat Convention gave Obama a solid, popular basis on which to campaign. Sadly, he has never lived up to the ideals presented during that speech. It is now clear that he didn't believe it – perhaps didn’t even write it! Too many Americans failed in 2008 to understand that executive leadership is much more than a popularity contest. It requires an enormous set of skills, which, unfortunately, Obama has failed to develop. Fortunately, America has a tremendous candidate in Gov. Mitt Romney. He has precisely the skill-set America desperately needs to restore the American Way – the American Prosperity Machine and American Exceptionalism. And he has a proven track record to demonstrate his competence. Romney/Ryan can do it . . . and with your vote they will do it. They will turn America around – for our sake and that of our children and grandchildren. ROMNEY & RYAN 2012 In God We Trust!

Reina Chua
Reina Chua

Mitt Romney invested in 10 Chinese companies recently-including ones that "embezzle", "partnered with Iran", & ( my personal favorite) "STOLE U.S. TRADE SECRETS!!!!!; Ripped this from a Mother Jones article.....So WTF?

Adrian Jawort
Adrian Jawort

Romney saying "cut funding to PBS!" sounds great to all the people who think everything is a liberal media conspiracy and the "Seven percent of the country actually told pollsters that the public-broadcasting tab was more than half of the federal budget" crowd, but to your average observer it just comes off as odd and even more pointless if you know the facts.

Steve Lutze
Steve Lutze

US wont be borrowing $$ from China if 1% pay taxes !!

Elizabeth Berberich
Elizabeth Berberich

Distraction from real issues. PBS is literally 0.12% of the deficit. I still have yet to hear these 2 puppets discuss real deficit causing disasters like war, drones, foreign aid, fiat currency. Or the NDAA

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

OnThis Week with George Snuffleupagus

Speaker of the House The Count John, Senate Majority Leader Cookie Monster, New Jersey Governor Oscar the Grouch.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Behind the big yellow fowl is a fantasy: the idea that the federal budget can be balanced by doing away with wasteful ephemera that no one really needs."

Just shut up, Scherer, you're embarrassing yourself. "Conservatives" have hated PBS forever because it's an alternative to right-wing propaganda outlets. If you don't know that you resemble another big bird; you know, the one with it's head stuck in the (pathologically non-partisan) sand.

This program is, for lack of a better term, a minor form of "reverse censorship". Rather than trying to silence the opposition outright, they are instead bulking themselves up, with help from the government, in an effort to drown out the more "sensationalist" programming, as they call it...I have a feeling that they aren't referring to ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or MSNBC.
http://voices.yahoo.com/left-l...

Brandt Hardin
Brandt Hardin

The dynamic duo of Romney and Ryan would drive the entire economy into a nose dive as long as it benefits the richest Americans.  They'll even destroy our beloved Big Bird and anything government-funded which stands in the way of making the rich richer.  Income inequality is endangering the Middle Class and making paupers of us all who don’t have those millions upon millions of dollars.   Read more about the role of Romney’s riches in this election and the power of his sacred undergarments at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot...  The working class of our country can’t AFFORD to allow this election to be bought and sold!

robbert5
robbert5

I believe that bringing this up makes Obama campaign look petty and I agree with your presumption Michael that this is small on both sides.  No false equivalency there, Obama should talk about bigger things, this is peanuts.

Kevin Groenhagen
Kevin Groenhagen

"There is a reason conservatives dream of cutting funding for Big Bird, but it has nothing to do with Sesame Street

or the best friend of Mr. Snuffleupagus. Behind the big yellow fowl is a

fantasy: the idea that the federal budget can be balanced by doing away

with wasteful ephemera that no one really needs."

I know of no conservative who believes that. Scherer is making a bogus argument. What conservatives do believe is that we should not be borrowing money from China to pay for unconstitutional spending such as that on CPB.

outsider2011
outsider2011

 Of course, Romney benefits from the fact that most Americans don’t know the numbers. According to a CNN poll last year,

just 27% of Americans know the public broadcasting tab is less than 1%

of government spending. Seven percent of the country actually told

pollsters that the public broadcasting tab was more than half of the

federal budget. Sit with that fact a moment

And that says it all. Low info voters.

That's who the repubs play to all the time with the lies.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 And yet real conservatives are okay with borrowing money from China for yet another round of tax cuts for the rich.

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

I know Republicans like to pretend that "General Welfare" doesn't mean anything but they ARE mistaken.