O Big Bird, Where Art Thou?

You’ve probably heard that CTW has asked the Obama campaign to stop using Big Bird in his television ads. (I guess this means they’ll have to create a new campaign featuring Jim Lehrer.) There are probably several reasons for this. While PBS management has not been shy about defending the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the company has carefully kept Oscar, Elmo and the gang out of the political fray. Even when Bird made an unusual appearance on Saturday Night Live, he had no comments about the ongoing discussion of the value of PBS and Sesame Street. I don’t think PBS believes that injecting its popular characters into a political discussion in a way not unlike the Muppets furor of earlier this year (this and this) serves any constructive purpose and ultimately detracts from the show’s message of inclusivity. I also suspect that PBS doesn’t really see any political value in reminding everyone what a political football public broadcasting becomes in an election year.

I, on the other hand, have no such qualms. It’s asinine that in response to a question about how he would offset the economic havoc wrought by a reduction of corporate tax rates across the board to 20%, Romney stated that he would cut federal funding for PBS. By now everyone has read or heard that this makes up something like 0.00012% of the annual budget. In other words, this is possibly the dumbest thing that he could have said except maybe that he would eliminate Medicare altogether. So why say it? Because conservatives love to denigrate public broadcasting, somehow equating it to a liberal factory. I think they do this for the same reason that they have a longstanding agenda to dismantle public education, one which has made leaps and bounds in Louisiana this year. I have a working hypothesis as to why Republican politicians hate any sort of education that they cannot directly control, and it’s this: like the feudal lords of old, they are worried that the peasants will one day realize that the system and policies that have been enacted do not benefit them and they will revolt. I hope this comes to pass, but in the interim the reality is that this fantasy that conservative media blowhards and political operatives have constructed that PBS and NPR are liberal think tanks who skew the news and entertainment programming to the far left is just that–the rabid fantasy of paranoid minds who are terrified of change. (The irony is that this mantra of “fair and balanced” that the right-wing noise machine has perpetuated has become ingrained in the mass media to such a degree that real journalism–the kind practiced by people like Edward R. Murrow and H.L. Mencken–is but a fading memory today. But this is a topic for another discussion.) PBS and NPR are outlets that consistently produce unbiased reporting and quality entertainment of the sort that people across the political spectrum in this country should be able to–and generally do–enjoy.

President Obama’s response to Helmet Head’s comments at the Denver debate has been rather ham-handed. Because everyone except people whose salary he’s actually paying has criticized his debate performance as abysmal, he is now being Angry Obama at public appearances and his sarcastic references to Bird as an evil CEO (rather like Tex Richman) or to PBS as the leading cause of the nation’s deficit don’t really help anyone. Instead of pointing out the obvious stupidity of Spray Tan’s remarks, why not produce an ad that features average citizens talking about how PBS in general and Sesame Street in particular have had a positive impact on their lives and the lives of their loved ones? There is a reason that this show has been running longer than I’ve been alive: it’s an excellent source of education and entertainment for children and it teaches values (that I once believed were universal) like compassion and sharing. We should have fewer responses to Helmet Head like this and more like this.