In the first debate between Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, the GOP nominee ruffled some feathers by saying that he'd cut the budget by eliminating non-essential costs, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Because the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer, is employed by PBS, Romney added:
"I'm sorry Jim. I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things," he said. "I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too."
I'm sure moms everywhere have seen the clip a dozen times. As soon as Romney said those words, the social media universe exploded. Immediately, a fake Twitter account for Big Bird was set up. The first tweet was, "WTF, Mitt Romney?" and another was, "Yo Mitt Romney, Sesame Street is brought to you today by the letters F & U!" Celebrities also chimed in. In one of the 17,000 tweets per minute, Whoopi Goldberg lamented that Romney wanted to "kill Big Bird." Calls were made for a "Million Muppet March" on Washington. A photoshopped picture of a forlorn Big Bird sitting on the Sesame stoop holding a "Will Work for Food" sign flew into inboxes across America. The next day, the President, still reeling from the previous night's debate debacle, made fun of Romney for "getting tough on Big Bird." Even PBS sent out their own press release, which read, "Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation's debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating."
More than anyone else, moms have affection in our heart for lovable Elmo, the mysterious Snuffleupagus, and even the garbage-dwelling Oscar the Grouch. But would a change in funding be "devastating?" PBS's self-importance is a little much for Americans who are struggling to pay the bills and find work.
So why does the government subsidize this show anyway?
The Public Broadcasting Act was passed in 1967 to address the paucity of quality children's programming. Now, however, moms know television is brimming with vibrant, entertaining, and educational offerings. Is Gordon more educational, for example, than Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer? Does Maria provide more diversity than the Disney Channel's Doc McStuffins? Are the Sesame Street writers more clever than the ones who create the hilarious Phineas and Ferb? Children's television has come a long way since everyone had platform shoes, bell bottoms, and pet rocks. Sesame Street is no longer the only game in town, so is it really so vital to the republic? If so, couldn't this important cultural institution thrive by itself? Michelle Malkin addressed this issue in National Review:
According to the 990 tax form all nonprofits are required to file, Sesame Workshop president and CEO Gary Knell received $956,513 — nearly a million dollars — in compensation in 2008. And, from 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales."
Moms might not know these specific figures, nor do we precisely know how many Sesame Street books, stuffed animals, and lunchboxes we have in our homes at this moment. But we do know this show created the "Tickle Me Elmo" mall riots and that the show can survive without us reaching into our own pockets. (After the debate, the new unfortunate name for the formerly in-demand doll is "Subsidize Me Elmo.")
Even the President realizes that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is bloated beyond reason. His Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission said "the current CPB funding level is the highest it has ever been." Malkin writes, "Doing away with the appropriation would save nearly $500 million in 2015 alone. Over ten years, those savings would total $5 billion (or roughly ten Solyndras). In these tough times, that's more than chump change and child's play."
To make matter worse, President Obama released an official campaign ad mocking Romney's promise to eliminate funding to PBS. He also sent out a campaign fundraiser telling voters that Romney "wanted to kill Big Bird."
But the public didn't respond like he anticipated. On Twitter, people said they wished Obama was as serious about protecting our embassies as he is about protecting Big Bird. Then, Romney said, "You have to scratch your head when the President spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird," he said. "I actually think we need to have a President who talks about saving the American people and saving good jobs." Worst of all, Sesame Street asked the President to take down his ad. This prompted a Drudge headline with a photo of Big Bird saying, "Leave Me Alone, Obama!" and a NY Post cover of Big Bird in the Oval Office over the headline "Cheep Shot!" To top it all off, the Washington Post said his fundraising letter was incredibly misleading by writing, "How did 'I love Big Bird' turn into 'kill Big Bird'? Only through a spin machine going on hyper drive."
Recently my four-year-old asked me if we could get her face painted with silver glittery paint at a high school football game.
"I don't have a dollar," I said, realizing I'd spent all I had at the concession stand. She looked at me with huge tears in her eyes, unable to understand why she couldn't have her face painted like her friends.
It's a hard lesson. But since Sesame Street prides itself to teaching lessons to children, PBS and the President should use this momentous occasion in history — when America has a national debt of over $16 trillion — to teach children a lesson about money. When it runs out, you stop spending.
As much as we love you, Big Bird, it's time to fly by yourself.