It’s the line from the election that liberals are clinging to–it’s the only one they can. Romney will kill Big Bird and destroy public television, robbing our children of the joy of Sesame Street. The world will become a sad, dejected place without Big Bird and his posse if Mitt Romney is elected president of the United States. Who could possibly want that? Obama is already hitting the stump with this message, and liberals have picked up the fight for Big Bird.
The actual Romney quote from the debate reads as follows:
I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That’s number one.
Does this mean Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird? Will Big Bird and his friends disappear off the airwaves? No, on both counts.
What many in liberal circles may be calling a gaffe today is a widely and long-held objective in conservative circles: the desire to defund public television and push its privatization. Sesame Street is incredibly well-known to anyone that has had children or who has been a child themselves in the last forty years, i.e., most Americans. The popularity of the merchandise and video/DVD sales have made the franchise familiar and incredibly profitable for PBS, which receives 15 percent of its funding from taxpayers. While many liberals are quick to point out that the budget for PBS is infinitesimal in comparison to the rest of the national budget, it seems these same liberals are unaccustomed to austerity measures of any kind, whether they be governmental, personal or in a business.
If a family of four has $500,000 of credit card debt and only an income of $30,000 per year, opting not to get a soup or salad appetizer with dinner at Applebees one night won’t dig them out of their debt. However, these decisions, small and seemingly meaningless on their face, add up with every dinner, with every spending decision until, eventually, the debt doesn’t seem quite so terrifying. Romney’s desire to eliminate spending on public television is just a soup appetizer at Applebees; there would be much more austerity needed to come to overcome our $16 trillion national debt.
In the case of PBS and NPR, the decision isn’t one between haves and have-nots. We can, in this instance, have our cake and eat it too. The beloved programming that exists on PBS, like Sesame Street, would not cease airing. Popular shows have a way of staying on air, just as popular food products have a way of staying on store shelves and popular movies have a way of staying in theaters. The free market determines the viability of shows like Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer. Both have stayed on air because they are beloved, educational shows for children and young adults, and many parents have also admitted to me how much they enjoy the shows themselves. Dora has survived without my tax dollars, and Big Bird would too. The success of Sesame Street has kept PBS viable for decades, keeping stations afloat while politically liberal shows have become a burden on stations.
Liberals aren’t worried about Sesame Street going off the air, they’re worried about liberal roundtables and documentaries feeling the wrath of the free market. This fight for public television isn’t about Big Bird, it’s about Bill Moyers.
Eventually, our children will be paying for the time they’ve spent watching Sesame Street, whether it be in time wasted watching commercials or in debt to China to pay Sesame Street’s producer’s salaries. Given that choice, how could we possibly chose to make our children beholden to Chinese lenders just to avoid a few diaper and sugary cereal commercials?