Having been routed in the first debate, President Obama has found a comeback strategy: Fly Big Bird. Specifically, mock Mitt Romney’s call to cut federal subsidies for the millionaires at the Sesame Workshop and pledge to defend the Public Broadcasting Service no matter how much money the Treasury has to borrow…
According to financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2011, Sesame Workshop and its nonprofit and for-profit subsidiaries had total operating revenue of more than $134 million. They receive about $8 million a year in direct government grants and more indirectly via PBS subsidies. Big Bird and friends also receive corporate and foundation support, and donations amount to about a third of revenue. Distribution fees and royalties comprise another third and licensing revenue makes up the rest…
So Big Bird likes to maximize revenues and investment gains as much as the next muppet. And now the President has made this adorable critter the symbol of federal programs that allegedly require eternal taxpayer aid, even if it has to be put on the future tax bill of today’s pre-schoolers. Is that funny?
President Obama, who has railed against the “fat-cat bankers on Wall Street” and the wealthy, has been an eager defender of Big Bird and public broadcasting this week in light of Mitt Romney’s comments that he would defund it in last week’s debate. But it turns out that many of those behind Big Bird are actually members of the 1 percent themselves (anyone with a total income of $343,927 or more as of 2009), based on their salaries…
And while the actor who plays Big Bird (Carroll Spinney) doesn’t have a salary that puts him in the 1 percent, he’s not far off: Spinney makes $314,072.
Public broadcasting is the deathless government program par excellence. It may have made some sense a few generations ago, when there were in effect three broadcast television stations, limited radio offerings, and enormous regulatory and economic barriers standing in the way of new market entrants. But that no longer is the case: Anybody with a few thousand dollars and an Internet connection can launch a television series or a radio program today and reach an audience of millions. We have more television stations than we can watch, more radio stations than we can listen to, and instantaneous connections to most of the world’s media. In fact, we could multiply public broadcasting expenditures a hundredfold and do practically nothing to improve on the already vast richness of our media environment. Firing Line is a beloved memory, but in 2012 such programming would not require a public-broadcasting infrastructure to thrive. If PBS doesn’t do it, 10 million others will.
And while PBS and NPR give very little offense beyond their bland, conventional liberalism, the United States is not the sort of country that should have government-run media — or even media that is only 6 percent government run. Public broadcasting, like so much associated with the progressive heyday, is fundamentally un-republican.
We welcome this debate. The Democrats will, as usual, cry that this is about “the children,” but l’affair Big Bird shows us precisely who the children really are.
As strategic miscalculations go, the ad is pretty devastating because it answers the big question that emerged from wreckage of last week’s miserable performance: Why was Obama’s performance so bad? The Big Bird ad seems to suggest that the Obama campaign was unable to respond to Romney’s aggressive critiques simply because there’s no substance to their campaign. They don’t know what they’re fighting for, as opposed to calling Romney a liar and grasping at Romney’s claim that making taxpayers pay for an extremely profitable children’s television show might not be necessary in an era where America owes trillions. By contrast, since the debate Romney’s embraced big themes and made a major foreign policy address. As Maggie Haberman at Politico pointed out this morning, this is exactly the “small ball” politicking that made the Romney campaign the source of press derision for so long. Now Romney’s flipped the script…
If the narrative heading into the VP debate is that the Obama campaign isn’t running on substance, and Joe Biden tries to win the debate purely on his likability and style points—it could fall flat in a big way. Big Bird just cut off Biden’s best chance at winning the debate, because relying on the fact that America will bond with an avuncular Joe Biden will reinforce the narrative that the Obama campaign doesn’t have serious answers. Biden’s biggest strength is now a potential weakness.
“This could be the worst ad I’ve ever seen. I make an appeal to people in Chicago, run this ad every night over and over again, spend all of your money and time on this. This is an ad that is trivial, it diminishes the presidency. It assumes, of course, that everybody wants to subsidize a company that, as we heard from Shannon [Bream] is a third of a billion dollar enterprise,” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said on “Special Report” tonight.
“And for Obama to be talking about it — I love the way he said this is the biggest driver of the debt. The biggest driver of our debt, according to Obama himself, is Medicare, he’s done nothing on that. And it was the same rip on Medicare that Romney mentioned PBS as the way to say we’re going to go from the biggest expenditures to the most trivial expenditures because we have to go after everything when we have a deficit this large. And just as an additional thing for anybody to run an ad that reminds people of the worst debate that any president has ever had, I think is a big mistake and I hope they just keep running it until the end of time.”
Click the image to watch.