In his debate with President Obama, GOP challenger Mitt Romney spoke to moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS what seemed at the time like a throwaway line. “I like PBS,” he said. “I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too. But I’m not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”
President Obama’s campaign members ensured that the line wouldn’t die when they used it as fodder for a TV ad making fun of Romney for being the big old meany (very alike the Wall Street villains also pictured in the ad) who wanted to kill poor Big Bird. Then Obama kept bringing it up on the campaign stump.
That provided Romney and his supporters with some good stump material, too: With so many really important issues, such as the debt, the lousy economy and oh, yes, terrorists killing Americans, what in the world is he doing talking so much about a silly bird? Even some Democrats fretted that the TV ad was trivializing the campaign, but the president kept right on using Big Bird on the stump. It’s hard to give up a good laugh line.
The dustup did remind us all of a couple of important things to consider.
On the positive side of PBS, the money it gets from the federal government is miniscule, and the good it does is enormous. In some remote areas, such as rural Alaska, PBS is the only TV station available.
On the other hand, the Sesame Street production company that owns Big Bird and the other Muppets does not exactly need a government handout. It gets millions of dollars a year through such things as product licensing and philanthropic contributions.