Obama Should Stop Defending Big (Bird) Government

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Yes, I know, just 0.014% of the federal budget goes to PBS. Yes, I know, it’s absurd to hear Mitt Romney imply that he can fix the deficit by squeezing Big Bird. But the Obama campaign’s post-debate pivot to Mr. Snuffleupagus’s feathery friend is just as absurd. Yes, I know, Americans like Big Bird, but they’re not so wild about Big Government. And for those of us who believe that President Obama has an impressive record to defend, should he ever decide to defend it, it’s depressing to watch his team cast the policy crossroads that is the 2012 election as a referendum on an oversized Muppet.

This isn’t just about PBS, but let’s start with PBS. I’ve argued in the past that those of us who believe the federal government can be a force for good ought to recognize that it gets a bad name butting into areas where it’s not needed.  My recent cover story on our subsidized lives made the liberal point that we rely far more on government than we realize, but also the conservative point that government has become far too ubiquitous.  When PBS supporters point out that federal subsidies provide just 12% of its revenues, they’re making a case for abolishing those subsidies. If corporations, foundations and other funding sources are covering 88% of the PBS budget, why can’t they cover 100%? If the federal assistance is such a pittance, why drag Big Bird and Barney and Downton Abbey through the political mud every year? If you have kids, you know a money machine like Sesame Street does not need the federal dole; check out this picture of my daughter’s boo-boo that I tweeted last night.

Judging from my Twitter feed, the main argument for federal cash is that it keeps public television stations alive in rural areas, where kids would otherwise be subjected to nonstop commercial crap. It reminds me of arguments from red-state politicians pushing rural airports, rural sprawl roads, rural post offices, and other largesse for economically and environmentally unsustainable communities; the liberals who love PBS don’t usually like those arguments, which tend to valorize “the heartland” at the expense of the rest of the country. In any case, Sesame Street has gone way downhill, PBS no longer holds a monopoly on good programming for kids, and the right to watch commercial-free TV does not strike me as a basic human right. If private funders feel it’s important for South Dakotans to watch Big Bird, they can make that happen with their own tax-deductible contributions.

(PHOTOSPolitical Photos of the Week, Sept. 28 – Oct. 4

Of course, reasonable people can disagree about government funding for PBS. My larger point is that it’s a strange hilltop for President Obama to try to defend, given his reluctance to defend his historic push for universal health coverage, or his unprecedented investments in clean energy, or his massive stimulus bill that helped prevent a depression. Those achievements were need-to-do’s; PBS is a want-to-do. It’s no coincidence that PBS is one of the few budget items that the obfuscating Romney has publicly declared that he’d cut. Sure, Americans like Big Bird; they like Mickey Mouse, too, but they wouldn’t want to pay his salary. The implicit message behind the Big Bird attacks is that Obama will stand up to any attempts to trim government, which is bad politics, bad policy, and untrue.

Obama used to brag that “we do big things.” He often warned the Clinton Administration veterans in his White House that he didn’t intend to waste time on school uniforms. So it’s deflating to watch him running away from his record and campaigning on smallball. Some liberals say PBS subsidies are investments in education, which is a reasonable argument. But it’s odd how silent those liberals—and Obama—have been about the president’s larger investments in education, tens of billions of dollars in emergency aid that prevented hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs during the Great Recession, extra help for Head Start and the most troubled schools, massive tuition assistance for low-income students. Republicans marched in lockstep against all of those efforts. Isn’t that a bigger deal than Big Bird?

The Obama campaign seems to be recognizing that it overplayed its Muppet hand; its latest ad points out that Romney supported budgets that would slash Medicaid for nursing homes, a much more vital government function. For months, the word out of Chicago was that Obama would make sure 2012 was a choice election, and it ought to be a stark choice: clean energy versus dirty energy, health insurance for all versus repealing health insurance for all, pro-choice versus pro-life, raising taxes on the wealthy versus promising to balance the budget without raising taxes or cutting anything significant. Just yesterday, Romney pledged to abolish the estate tax, which would expand the deficit to reward the heirs of billionaires and multi-millionaires like him. Now that’s worth a debate.

Romney and his party have cast themselves as the enemies of government. Obama has a powerful case to make that government can play a vital role in American progress, keeping us safe, providing a safety net, preventing economic calamity, building a prosperous future. He ought to make that case. But it’s not a case for Big Bird Government.

402 comments
akpat
akpat

I'd rather spend money on public braodcasting than 88 billion a year in Afghanistan.

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

I would agree to eliminating the PBS subsidy if we also eliminate the billions of dollars in tax breaks that Fox news receives.  Despite making $10 billion in profit News Corp received a tax refund of $4.8 billion dollars over the past four years.  Who has the bigger public subsidy?  Google it for

yourself "Tax breaks for Fox News Corps."   

Carole St
Carole St

I'll Roast Big Bird for Thanksgiving, right after we pardon the one in the White House !

lancedal
lancedal

Using Big Bird as in the existing ad is BAD. Bad idea and Bad message. Saying Romney cutting Big Bird to provide Tax Cut for the 1% is stupid. Think about it. If I'm watching that ad, I can tell it smell bad. Doesn't matter what Romney said.

They should use Big Bird to make the point that Romney lied on his tax policy. That cutting Big Bird 1000 times won't cover Romney's tax cut. That Romney is trying to block the sun with a leaf. That he is trying to fool voters.

Why David and David are so stupid this time around? They were brilliant 4 years ago. I blamed them for Obama's performance at the debate as well.

RobertSF
RobertSF

OMG! -- Obama Must Go!

The experiment is over, folks. Affirmative Actions doesn't work in the US Presidency. We gave it a try, and now we must admit defeat. 

Terri Yancy
Terri Yancy

It is Romney who has made PBS a campaign issue, not Obama.

Adrian Jawort
Adrian Jawort

You have to have a repeat of 2008 if you're Obama: GWB just kept pointing out what a 'flip-flopper' John Kerry was and it worked. You're average voter seeing Romney at length for the first time is like, "Wow! This guy has a handle on things!" But point out it's a charade and parade of flip-flopping. Take abortion: he was for it before he was against it and now it's 'not an issue' and so even his own campaign is confused on the matter. That's just one issue and he's been like that on virtually every issue.

Ted Carr
Ted Carr

The Big Bird thing was old after two days. It's time to be assertive and directly challenge the Romney deceptions.

Eraldo Eraldo
Eraldo Eraldo

We don't think anymore, we just breathe and consume!!

Peggy F. Pierce
Peggy F. Pierce

Amen!!!This is so ridiculous for a President to be wasting his time on Big Bird!!!Give me a break!!!

James Dean
James Dean

/disagree. Pointing out that Romney is attacking things like public tele truly underscores how disconnected the Republican message is from reality.

Jangocat
Jangocat

Your attempt to defend Romney's ridiculous attack on PBS is pretty weak. Funny how you righties love big government if it has to do with nation building, foreign aid, and the military. But if it's for actual Americans benefit forget it. We spend 25% more on defense then the next 10 most powerful nations combined. Yet Romney wants to spend even more. Why aren't you crying about that? Could it be all the defense contractor donators? Or are you just ultra paranoid?

The fact is EVERY republican president since at least Nixon over 4 decades ago has made the government bigger and made the debt bigger. G.W. Bush managed to go from a surplus to a record deficit. It's about time the republicans stop pretending to be against big government and fiscally conservative. The facts prove otherwise.

paulejb
paulejb

mantisdragon91,

 "And yet you were okay with the Republican favorite charities of Haliburton, Exxon and Enron... go figure."

======================================

If Haliburton and Exxon are getting direct subsidies from Uncle Sucker as is PBS we should stop them all.

P.S. ENRON is no more.

paulejb
paulejb

SuperShrug,

"You do know you just posted up a drawing of bird poop, right?"

================================

It was Big Bird poop, Shug. It's not real. It's a cartoon.

HockeyDadMn
HockeyDadMn

Yet another desperate attempt to divert attention from Obama's miserable performance, lack of responsibility and refusal to accept accountability.  

akpat
akpat

The fed budget cannot be balanced without a 50% cut in military spending to the companies some of whom make things for millions that do not work. We also need a 50% cut in non Ss and med entitlements a 100% cut in pork and after that raise taxes on those who can afford it and imports.

There is no other way and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or a fool, and there seem to be plenty of both in congress.

akpat
akpat

The federal budget cannot be balanced without a 50% cut in military spending mainly to contractors who produce items always late, always double the price and in many cases dont work like the F22 and F35 fighters.

We also need a significant reduction in welfare to both individuals and corporate. Non SS and med need to be reduced 50%,, a 100% cut in pork and then raise taxes on the wealthy, corporations and imports.

As for those almost 50% who pay no federal taxes we need to encourage decent paying wages so they can afford it even if it is only $10/week.

herrer
herrer

He is becoming very arogant and I have questioned what his campain advisors are doing through out this election.  He and Romney have been vague on how what exactly they are going to do and really there is no difference between these two guys. 

paulejb
paulejb

justinabrams1,

"And your point is? So tell what what does the CEO of PBS take home?"

===================================

 Simple point, justina. Hard pressed taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize the 1%ers in public broadcasting. 

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

It's actually quite interesting to watch the Obama campaign in compete meltdown.

Obama is on his way back to Chicago.

Life will be good again.

GovernmentCoverUpClickHere
GovernmentCoverUpClickHere

Washington is running the online conversation desperate to divert our attention since the truth leaked out about Obama and Biden

BBCfan
BBCfan

Beyond Pathetic

Know your history Wall Street did more damage to the world economy than Sesame Street. That is the definition of pathetic, to rally for greed and assail education but then again you are a republican

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 You didn't seem to have any problem with Affirmative Action when America elected our first mentally handicapped president 12 years ago.

paulejb
paulejb

Jangocat,

When there is another terrorist attack that kills Americans should we call Big Bird, Jango?

ahandout
ahandout

 We need to end the subsidies for ethanol and solar.  Barry spent 50 years of oil subsidies on the greenies.

testy1
testy1

He said it was a "drawing", silly.  No more real than your intelligence.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Nevermind the thousands of other people PBS employs.  Just for the record Paul, are you for the government removing all subsidies and budget assistance to any company/public entity, or just PBS?

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

Indeed, if you are right, I won't be paying any income taxes. Unlike the four figure quarterly payment I just made.

SuperShrug
SuperShrug

Bird poop on the head is good luck, ironically. 

testy1
testy1

You think Big Bird is education?  No wonder education is a failure.  It starts with the adults.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 So Sarah,, care to post a comparison of how much in subsidies green energy got in the last 50 years versus oil?

paulejb
paulejb

DonQuixotic,

Sure, why not? We don't need anymore Obama losers such as SOLYNDRA.

testy1
testy1

There are organizations, like NASA, that provide jobs, technology and much more in benefits to the general public.  If Obama can slash their budget to nothing, killing jobs, research, future hope, why should a stupid Yellow Bird's organization get "gimmee money?"

paulejb
paulejb

mantisdragon91,

Big Oil gets no direct grants from Uncle Sucker.

testy1
testy1

Oooh, "big oil."  You mean companies like Solindra? You know, the people that bought Obama's previous election results.

paulejb
paulejb

SuperShrug,

You do know that Big Bird is not a real bird, right, Shrug?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Was it Obama that brought up Big Bird in the debate? Just because Romney likes to fire people doesn't mean he has to start with a favorite children's character.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 And yet you were okay with the Republican favorite charities of Haliburton, Exxon and Enron... go figure.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 Sorry Paule didn't realize that money used for tax cuts is any different in color or spending value than money used for subsidies

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

 You'd probably sound more credible if you could spell Solyndra properly but just for the record subsidies to Solyndra 535 Million, subsidies to Big Oil 50 Billion. Thank you for playing try again.

http://thinkprogress.org/clima...

SuperShrug
SuperShrug

You do know you just posted up a drawing of bird poop, right?