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Dead Tree Alert: Big Bird Is a Republican

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Big Bird: PBS/Photofest
Big Bird: PBS/Photofest

Sesame Street (PBS) 1969 - present Shown: Big Bird, Ernie

OK, he’s not, literally. (Though he was the first one to see the elephant. Coincidence?) But as I write in my print TIME column this week, one thing that’s been lost in the debate over PBS funding is that PBS not only serves many, many conservatives among its audience but operates according to several small-c conservative principles and values. Think of Big Bird—of PBS generally—as a late-’60s, Nelson Rockefeller / George Romney Republican, believing that government can have a role in serving the underserved with prudently managed programs that offer a lot of bang for the buck.

A few points I make in the column:

* It’s true, as those who want to cut PBS funding say, that Sesame Street and Big Bird would survive. (Which is why it’s mind-boggling to me that Mitt Romney has gone out of his way to bring Big Bird’s name into the discussion, going back to the primaries.) What they don’t say is who would lose out: red-state viewers, in rural, lower-income parts of the country that reliably vote Republican. Big Bird will survive, but you may no longer have a station to watch him on in Montana. Very little “PBS” money goes to the national organization; really, the federal funding is a support for viewers in mostly Republican states.

* Public broadcasting, in the U.S., is fiscally conservative. To analogize it to health care, it’s not a massive, expensive single-payer system like the BBC. It uses a very small amount of seed money—$445 million in a nearly $4 trillion budget‚to leverage far more in private charitable and corporate donations. If you ran the public schools the same way, Newt Gingrich would do cartwheels.

* Public broadcasting is decentralized and de-federalized. In commercial TV, a central network like NBC calls the shots, makes the shows, and largely tells affiliates what to do. In public TV, local stations make shows, set their schedules (hence “check local listings”) and, by law, get most of the federal funding. The decisions are made locally, just as Romney says he’d prefer for health care.

* Public TV is culturally conservative. One of the few places where crunchy progressives and family-values conservatives have common ground—besides homeschooling—is a distrust of commercialized TV, especially where their kids are concerned. It may be for different reasons (liberals focus on violence, conservatives on sex, e.g.) but I get surprisingly similar feedback from parents on the left and right about not wanting their kids exposed to crass pop culture and relentless commercialism and advertisements. And for the reasons above, red-state conservatives are among the most likely to lose access to chaste, ad-free PBS if the government stops funding it.

Personally, because I live in New York City, I’ll have relatively well-funded public TV no matter what, thanks to the many fine, evil corporations and 1%-ers who pump money into my civic institutions! And frankly, the shows might be better then; my longstanding problem with PBS is that its programming is too bland and timid, largely because of political pressures.

But that may be the tradeoff for having public TV that reaches 100% of the public. Certainly, if people take a look at what would actually happen if the government cut off PBS and still want to end its funding, that’s their right. But it would be ironic if, in the name of conservative principles, we weakened one of the most frugal, least radical outlets in the TV business.

Update: By the way, for an intelligent argument against funding PBS—from an advocate of progressive government programs and stimulus, no less—go read Michael Grunwald at Swampland.

52 comments
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Deechickie
Deechickie

And now you've proven what happens when you don't get enough Sesame Street or PBS in your childhood. Mr. Snuffleupagus is a woolly mammoth, not an elephant. And while they may seem similar, they are not the same. They are from the same order in the animal kingdom, but far from being the same species. In fact, woolly mammoths aren't the ancestors of the modern elephant.

You really can't pigeon-hole PBS or Sesame Street as either Republican or Democrat, they are non-partisan. So maybe you want to associate PBS and its programming as conservative, it's actually not. And we can all thank Mitt Romney for dragging Big Bird into the political limelight of the election, by way of what he thought would be a snarky and well received comment. And then all the conservatives and Republicans get all bunched up when anyone defends Sesame Street, Big Bird, and PBS by way of memes and political cartoons using those characters. Hey, it was Romney that dragged a six year old Big Bird into the election - scrutinize him. Sounds kind of like a playground bully, which he has actually had a history of being per comments of former classmates.

Deechickie
Deechickie

And now you've proven what happens when you don't get enough Sesame Street or PBS in your childhood. Mr. Snuffleupagus is a woolly mammoth, not an elephant. And while they may seem similar, they are not the same. They are from the same order in the animal kingdom, but far from being the same species. In fact, woolly mammoths aren't the ancestors of the modern elephant.

You really can't pigeon-hole PBS or Sesame Street as either Republican or Democrat, they are non-partisan. So maybe you want to associate PBS and its programming as conservative, it's actually not. And we can all thank Mitt Romney for dragging Big Bird into the political limelight of the election, by way of what he thought would be a snarky and well received comment. And then all the conservatives and Republicans get all bunched up when anyone defends Sesame Street, Big Bird, and PBS by way of memes and political cartoons using those characters. Hey, it was Romney that dragged a six year old Big Bird into the election - scrutinize him. Sounds kind of like a playground bully, which he has actually had a history of being per comments of former classmates.

Deechickie
Deechickie

And now you've proven what happens when you don't get enough Sesame Street or PBS in your childhood. Mr. Snuffleupagus is a woolly mammoth, not an elephant. And while they may seem similar, they are not the same. They are from the same order in the animal kingdom, but far from being the same species. In fact, woolly mammoths aren't the ancestors of the modern elephant.

You really can't pigeon-hole PBS or Sesame Street as either Republican or Democrat, they are non-partisan. So maybe you want to associate PBS and its programming as conservative, it's actually not. And we can all thank Mitt Romney for dragging Big Bird into the political limelight of the election, by way of what he thought would be a snarky and well received comment. And then all the conservatives and Republicans get all bunched up when anyone defends Sesame Street, Big Bird, and PBS by way of memes and political cartoons using those characters. Hey, it was Romney that dragged a six year old Big Bird into the election - scrutinize him. Sounds kind of like a playground bully, which he has actually had a history of being per comments of former classmates.

thinknoonchi
thinknoonchi

None of this explains why we're supposed to borrow money from China to keep Big Bird on air..

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

Shouldn't the question really be...Has anybody set any kind of priorities?  Shouldn't we be asking things like:

 - Would we rather spend money subsidizing "big sugar" (which surely doesn't need it) than on providing educational television for underserved (largely Republican) communities? 

 - Or, how many Pell Grants can be funded with the cost of a single Hellfire missile? 

The biggest threat to our nation is our unwillingness to invest in our own betterment (anyone see where the US ranks in Math/Science education?).  And we continue to go down the road where our representatives will gladly discuss pulling relatively minor funding for educational programs, while we are stuffing cash into the pockets of the industries that lobby them the hardest. 

anon76returns
anon76returns

@James- KUSM is very popular in Bozeman, and I can't imagine those dirty hippies in Missoula ever getting rid of KUFM.  Montana PBS would be fine, but then Montana is a bit purplish for a red state.  It's the folks in Wyoming you should be worried about.

J
J

Why the GOP targets PBS?   Simply because it's considered by them to be federally funded liberal media outlet, i.e. its news programs.  Now let the debate start on the GOP's  silencing of media, suppression or voters, women, minorities, gays, constitutional rights, blending of religion and Govt, ousting of liberal state supreme court judges......the list goes on and on.

GOP = American's Taliban

courtobserver
courtobserver

 Even as a Romney supporter (more against Obama than for Romney), I have to agree with some of your comments. I was quick to label Santorum 'Ayatollah  Santorum'. And I'm very much against much of what Homeland Security has done to our freedom. But Obama is far from guiltless. He has trampled on the constitution with his czars and executive orders. He has murdered American citizens he deemed a threat to the U.S. along with anyone else who happened to be in their vicinity.

And I'm not particularly fond of Romney's proposed increase in military spending. I was once a contracts negotiator for DOD. I've seen some of the waste in spending. That's what needs looking at.

But I choose the lesser of two evils and oppose  Obama's socialist philosophy.

J
J

I'm amazed with the GOP and now Romney banging the drums to build up defense and its spending.........just seems like a long running quick fix/band-aid to ramp up the economy (always temporary until the debt hits) rather then fundamentally work on the real issues effecting our economy in both short amp; long term.

Having the best military and largest arsenal is not going to restore this country to its former position as the no 1 power house in industry, education, standard of living, IT, etc.

LameRandomName
LameRandomName

OK, first of all, half a billion dollars is a lot of stinking money.

Second, the issue isn't the merits of the CPB itself, it's whetherFederal tax dollars should be supporting ANY media at ALL. The central govt was never supposed to be this big, because it wasn't DESIGNED to be.

Third, the problem with Big Government isn't who is managing it; the problem is with its SIZE.

Finally, trying to establish some person or entity's conservative bonafides by comparison to Rockefeller is like holding up Chris Matthews as a model of decorum and serenity.

Joe Damron
Joe Damron

Big Bird and Sesame Street have assets nearing $300 million. Big Bird is just a collusionary prostitute for the Democratic Party. Public Broadcasting takes corrupt dollars in exchange for supporting Democratic causes.

Petr Jandacek
Petr Jandacek

The Park Service cannot buy up the private land inside of National Parks because the money was given to Big Bird.

carotexas
carotexas

I thank Romney for the person who thought this would be a winner.

Living in a very conservative rural area the support that our PBS stations receive is bipartisan.

courtobserver
courtobserver

If you're middle class, like I am, don't you somehow resent that your entire personal hard earned tax dollars paid to the government was spent on teaching the letter 'G' on Sesame Street? How about skipping just one letter, 'Z' maybe, it's not used that much, and send me back the taxes I paid last year?

Rex Reddy
Rex Reddy

Big Bird is a Puppet.

Much like the Liberal Media.

jimars
jimars

Romney's going to stop PBS funding but then says he's going to give 2 trillion more to the military that's not even being asked for ( kind of like turning the heat down one degree and then opening all the doors and windows).

courtobserver
courtobserver

Any sane, informed person knows government must cut spending. Even if PBS were Romney's only proposed cut, which it won' be, he's still one program and $450 million ahead of Obama.

anon76returns
anon76returns

Romney's proposed cuts to PBS:  $450 million.

Romney's proposed increase to defense:  $1.5 trillion

Obama's proposed cuts to the defense dept: $487 billion

You should check your numbers again, courtobserver.

David Suter
David Suter

When did we exclude any sort of tax increase? How can any sane and informed person not think that some form of tax increase is necessary, and how can any sane and informed person think that further cuts are what we need with the economy still suffering from crisis that Bush Built?

Apartment223
Apartment223

Forcing people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty is enough of a tax increase in our near future.

free2allnew
free2allnew

 Just look at the current budget.   PBS gets almost a half a BILLION dollars a year and it's a fraction of the Federal budget.

WE DON'T NEED MORE TAXES, which would most likely increase spending, WE NEED SPENDING CUTS.

When the people are hurting, it makes ZERO sense to increase the burden on us.

BTW, even if we cut PBS funding, not to save but to use it somewhere else, we could get a better return.  One reason the return would be better is because PBS can fund themselves.

courtobserver
courtobserver

 You've convinced me! Let's give everyone in America a government job and then raise their taxes enough to pay for it.

ChloeACD2010
ChloeACD2010

The liberal spin experts don't want the public to recognize that cutting federal funding for PBS was just "one" example of cutting federal spending, not Romney's only plan for reducing the deficit.  PBS can support itself without borrowing from China to pay for it so no more subsidies...simple!  The same will be true for other programs that don't need subsidies but are collectively adding unnecessary debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay for.  

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

This is baloney.  Romney didn't just think this up in the spur of the moment...he's been saying the same thing for months.  If he wants to show that he's serious about cutting the budget, then let's hear him proclaim that the "Osprey" or the Joint Strike Fighter, or the Raptor are no longer in our country's financial best-interest.  But wait a minute...Boeing and Sikorsky are both major contributors, so let's just stick with Big Bird.

J
J

 In a perfect world, Romney can say he will eliminate all the loopholes and deductions, but wait until the rich folks, business lobbyists and  special interest groups call in their chips for getting him elected.  You and I will never see the personal amp; business windfalls eliminated in our life time.

Sage__Owl
Sage__Owl

Windfalls like the kind Romney lobbied for? Why do I suspect he won't be all that quick to close them?

anon76returns
anon76returns

Liberal spin experts?  Unless you're calling Romney liberal, this is just ridiculous.  Romney was asked how he would close the deficit, and this was the only example he came up with.  Trying to subsequently say that it was "just one" example is the spin- it was the only example given, which is why the Democrats have tried to make such hay out of it.

ChloeACD2010
ChloeACD2010

It was a timed debate....Romney gave one example of a program that people would recognize that doesn't need financial support from the government .  If you wanted him to list every program that didn't need or deserve government subsidies, who knows how long that would take!  He'd probably still be listing them today! 

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

Not every program...just one that would make the slightest difference in our national spending. 

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

Romney has had two years to name programs he would cut, and several opportunities in recent weeks (Meet the Press for one), and he has refused to name the programs he would put on the chopping block. All we know is that he has adopted the Ryan Plan and would thus cut the things mentioned in that budget scheme.

anon76returns
anon76returns

It was his chance to show how serious he was about cutting the deficit, and he went with a laugh line.  His deficit reduction plan is literally a joke.  If he has a list that would go on for week, then, Shirley, one of those programs would demonstrate a target that would substantially reduce the debt?

JDMcCool
JDMcCool

It may have been one example, but it was the world's worst example considering PBS funding accounts for .012% of the budget. It's like me giving you 12 cents out of a $1,000. Would you really go bragging to your friends about your sudden wealth?

ChloeACD2010
ChloeACD2010

I guess I still consider $445 million a significant amount of money.  Amazing how people lose sight of this.  We all need to start living within our means.  I'm a small business owner in business for 22 years and I've been cutting my salary since 2006 in order to make sure my debts are paid.  I have cut spending in order to live within my means, I expect others to do so as well.  We're all in this together.

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

I agree that we need to make prudent cuts in our budget, but let me suggest another route...

According to a Time story yesterday regarding the cost to maintain our nuclear arsenal, we have about 400 atomic bombs that are slated to be refurbished at a cost of $28M each.  That comes to over $11B (over 20 years-worth of PBS).  Now, considering that we have land and sub-based ICBMs, plus enough other nuclear doo-dads to fry the planet several times over, does anyone really think that we need to spruce-up the nukes that fall out of the bottom of a bomber?  And don't get me started on the cost of such airplanes!

Bottom line is that PBS will never get defunded simply because (if anyone is doing their job right) we will be looking at the heavy, low-hanging fruit first.  My vote would be to do-away with ways of killing people before we do-away with ways of raising them to be smart, engaged citizens.

JDMcCool
JDMcCool

But it's actually not in comparison to some big ticket items no one wants to touch like Defense, because, let's be real, we spend more on our national defense than any other country and making more ships and submarines like Romney suggested only adds to the budget by putting out something we don't need. But you know, what does a budget over a half a trillion dollars matter. Let's cut less than half a billion from PBS

LameRandomName
LameRandomName

Actually, no. It's a great example.

1) It is something that the central government is not authorized to do by the Constitution, nor is it something it NEEDS to do, if it EVER did.

2) The fact that it's small, innocuous and well liked by people on BOTH sides of the political spectrum makes it an excellent example. If you can't even cut off funding for the SIMPLE things that are none of Uncle Sam's business, then you can't cut anything.

ForConsideration
ForConsideration

Two quick comments:

1. I think his 'Big Bird" comment may have have been a ad lib.  Maybe.  I think the PBS comment was planned, but not so sure about Big Bird.

2. If just 10% of taxpayers were to give (or increase giving) just $1.25/month to PBS, it would more than make up the difference in federal funding.  If they can't get that $15/year from 10% of taxpayers, then it's wrong to ask all taxpayers to give them a dime.  If I were Romney, I would cut funding, but then do a commercial to encourage Americans to support it directly.  That's how it should be funded.  Most folks like Big Bird and PBS.  But many feel like their tax dollars are already supporting PBS... so why should I pay more.  I truly believe, if funding is cut, they will end up with MORE money, not less.

Jack
Jack

Big Turd wants to fund his tax cut on

the back of Big Bird. Mitt and Ann refuse to show their tax returns

for 2005-2009, since their accountants said they paid about 14%, the

only reason to hide those returns is the IRS amnesty for rich tax

cheats with secret Swiss accounts. After the UBS whistle blower case

the IRS let rich tax cheats "pay the fine" instead of trial

for the felony they committed. Maybe they should be in the Big House

rather than the White House.

 

Jim Wilson
Jim Wilson

another reason to hide tax returns is he didn't  give his required 10% to the Mormon church too. 

smokeys48
smokeys48

It would appear that Big Bird is non-partisan since he has asked the administration to stop using him in their commercials.  Ironically, the bully president has refused and will use Big Bird for his own political purposes whether the big yellow machine likes it or not.  Ya, that's grown up.  Sounds like the president missed those episodes on respecting the rights of others.  I hope they sue.

Rob Rivers
Rob Rivers

Ironically Obama's tried to use big bird, but the public is seeing it as pathetic.   Perhaps it was a calculated softball toss that Mitt made knowing that Obama just wouldn't be able to let it go and that it would have that effect?

Didnt_Read_It
Didnt_Read_It

"It uses a very small amount of seed money—$445 million in a nearly $4 trillion budget"

Every penny counts... Didn't your parents teach you that?

Sage__Owl
Sage__Owl

I was taught not to be penny-wise and dollar-stupid.

anon76returns
anon76returns

To be fair, my parents weren't spending $680 billion plus and funding wars on their defense accounts when they said that.

Didnt_Read_It
Didnt_Read_It

"Whether it be a grain of sand or a rock, in water they sink alike"

David Charin
David Charin

sounds like Big Bird is Republican, if the Republicans were still a moderate party. The democrats didn't introduce Big Bird into the national debate. Romney did, when he promised to cut PBS funding, which is an abysmally tiny percent of federal spending. It was a cheap political move, and Romney deserves to get some flak for it. 

David Suter
David Suter

Big Bird seemingly being a classic republican is totally irrelevant in the face of who the GOP is now. The Party of Ike, or Teddy is gone, now there is only a crass power seeking group of people who hold no true beliefs, and who are more than willing to harm the country in order to win. Teddy, or Abe for that matter, would be horrified by today's GOP, their total unwillingness to govern, and their total inability to take responsibility for their own actions. 

Jason Cannon
Jason Cannon

Abe? You mean Abe Lincoln who took this country to war and tore families apart? Oh yeah, really wish we could go back to those days.

Jim Parker
Jim Parker

Yet you fail to remember that the Civil war you talked about ended slavery!!Many good Americans on both sides died for what they believed in.So before you make a comment like this you should remember the sacrifices that were made!!! 

surlyujest
surlyujest

"The Party of Ike, or Teddy is gone"Thank God for that!

mike9998
mike9998

Likewise, JFK would be horrified at what the Democratic Party has become.  "Ask not what your country can do for you..."  Hogwash!