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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Killing Big Bird

“Today our problem is not making miracles--but managing miracles. We might well ponder a different question: What hath man wrought--and how will man use his inventions?” — Lyndon Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, November 7, 1967.

I have a suggestion for Bill O’Reilly, the author of two bestselling books; Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy. He might consider another book with the title “Killing Big Bird.”

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.

Apologizing for his disastrous performance in his first head-to-head debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama told a Hollywood fundraiser that the celebrities present “just perform flawlessly night after night. I can’t always say the same.” On his equally disastrous performance in office, the president admitted, “I goofed up.” But Romney, he joked, “is finally getting tough on Big Bird. Rounding him up. Elmo has got to watch out, too.”

Liberals in the media have tried to help the president out by amplifying this joke into a serious charge, raising the ante from rounding up Big Bird to killing him. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien said, “my son was devastated when he heard that Big Bird might be killed.”

This phony media driven dust up stems from an answer Mitt Romney gave moderator Jim Lehrer during last Wednesday’s presidential debate when he responded to a question regarding cutting federal programs:

“Okay, good. So I’ll get rid of that. 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. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That's number one.”

As Sherrie Westin, vice president of Sesame Workshop — which owns Sesame Street — had just explained to O’Brien, “The Sesame Workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS. So we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship.

“So quite frankly, you know, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of Public Broadcasting but when they always sort of tout out Big Bird and say we’re going to kill Big Bird; that actually is misleading because ‘Sesame Street’ will be here.”

In fact, Romney never threatened to kill or even round up Big Bird. Pressed by Obama and moderator Jim Lehrer to identify federal spending he would cut, Romney repeated what he has been saying for a year: “I will eliminate all programs by this test: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. ObamaCare’s on my list.”

Gently reminding the audience that, as a PBS employee, Lehrer was hardly a disinterested party, Romney said, “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things.” He added, “I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”

As even the Huffington Post admits, ending taxpayer subsidies won’t kill Big Bird. HuffPo cites the manufacturer (outsourced to China) of Big Bird’s costumes to the effect that, “even if Romney kills PBS, Big Bird will survive ‘It’s a business, and a lucrative one.’”

That’s an understatement. Sesame Workshop made $46.9 million last year from licensing Big Bird and other Sesame Street characters on an astonishing variety of merchandise, from diapers to backpacks, from clothing to toys, from decor to accessories. HuffPo cites an analyst who estimates that Hasbro’s Fisher-Price division generates $70 to $75 million a year in revenue from “Sesame Street” toys alone.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS (and NPR), reportsbig-bird-debunker-corporate-welfare-queen-09oct2012-620x438 its federal appropriations for 2013 as $445 million — up about 37 percent from $325 million in 2000. This corporate welfare for CPB may have been an indulgence we could afford in 2000, when the federal budget was running an $86 billion surplus. Today, with a deficit in excess of $1.3 trillion, it’s a luxury, and we must cut back. It’s a small cut, perhaps equivalent in a family budget to forgoing a single latte at Starbucks. But small cuts add up, and if we can’t cut corporate welfare, we can’t cut anything.

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 preschoolers. Is that funny?

On November 7, 1967 President Lyndon Johnson gave his remarks upon the signing of The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 as a part of his Great Society. In his remarks Johnson stated:

“It was in 1844 that Congress authorized $30,000 for the first telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore. Soon afterward, Samuel Morse sent a stream of dots and dashes over that line to a friend who was waiting. His message was brief and prophetic and it read: "What hath God wrought?"

Every one of us should feel the same awe and wonderment here today.

For today, miracles in communication are our daily routine. Every minute, billions of telegraph messages chatter around the world. Some are intercepted on ships. They interrupt law enforcement conferences and discussions of morality. Billions of signals rush over the ocean floor and fly above the clouds. Radio and television fill the air with sound. Satellites hurl messages thousands of miles in a matter of seconds.

Today our problem is not making miracles--but managing miracles. We might well ponder a different question: What hath man wrought--and how will man use his inventions?

The law that I will sign shortly offers one answer to that question.

It announces to the world that our Nation wants more than just material wealth; our Nation wants more than a "chicken in every pot." We in America have an appetite for excellence, too.

While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man's spirit. That is the purpose of this act.

It will give a wider and, I think, stronger voice to educational radio and television by providing new funds for broadcast facilities.

It will launch a major study of television's use in the Nation's classrooms and their potential use throughout the world.

Finally--and most important--it builds a new institution: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Yes, the student in a small college tapping the resources of the greatest university in the hemisphere.

--the country doctor getting help from a distant laboratory or a teaching hospital;

--a scholar in Atlanta might draw instantly on a library in New York;

--a famous teacher could reach with ideas and inspirations into some far-off classroom, so that no child need be neglected. Eventually, I think this electronic knowledge bank could be as valuable as the Federal Reserve Bank.

And such a system could involve other nations, too--it could involve them in a partnership to share knowledge and to thus enrich all mankind.

A wild and visionary idea? Not at all. Yesterday's strangest dreams are today's headlines and change is getting swifter every moment.”

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. As radio talker Mark Levine has stated many times he has a group of investors lined up ready to purchase Sesame Street and run it on cable TV and the Internet. His financial advisors have told him they could “make millions” from the deal.

Outside of the popular Sesame Street what else does PBS offer for the money we give it that is not available for free on other channels such as History, National Geographic, and Discovery?

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. Nowhere in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is Congress empowered to grant monies to a media or broadcast outlet — even if you stretch the clause; “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;” to its absolute absurdity.

The increasingly infantile Obama campaign has been clinging to Big Bird as a life preserver ever since Mitt Romney destroyed the incumbent President in the first presidential debate. You can’t get a straight story about Libya from Barack Obama. We still don’t know where all his “stimulus” money went. In a few weeks, we’ll find out if the bizarre “good jobs report” that claimed 800,000 jobs appeared out of thin air in a recessionary economy was just a statistical blip. Vital documents pertaining to the deadly Fast and Furious scandal remain protected by executive privilege. But Obama will talk about Muppets all day long.

Now the Obama campaign has produced a TV ad using Big Bird – not just a lookalike or a shadowy figure, but the character himself, who even speaks during the ad – to assail Mitt Romney for daring to suggest he would cut PBS funding during the debate.

I’m sure the huge number of parents angry about what Barack Obama has done to their country would like to know if this was a fully authorized use of the Big Bird character, before they make Christmas shopping decisions this year. Maybe Obama could sell Muppets branded with his logo in his web store – you know, the part of his website that does verify the identity of credit card holders, unlike his donation page.

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. This is exactly the “small ball” politicking that made the Romney campaign the source of press derision for so long. Now Romney has flipped the script.

As an update the production company behind Sesame Street is asking political campaigns to refrain from using their characters in campaign ads — including an Obama campaign ad that uses Big Bird.

"Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down," the company said in a Tuesday statement.

In the very best postmodern fashion, Obama and his supporters have relied on a narrative about Obama that has been carefully constructed. He’s brilliant, a great writer, a rare thinker, a moderate, a first-class temperament with neatly pressed pants, a uniter, a cool guy who’s unflappable.

The first debate last Wednesday threatened to make that narrative seem absurd. You might say that the narrative got mugged by reality, and an awful lot of people were watching while it happened.

But the next day there was a new narrative in place — or rather, several narratives, all rooted in cognitive dissonance: Romney cheated, the altitude was too high for Obama, he didn’t have time to practice because he was too busy with weighty matters, Romney lied, and look at those great unemployment numbers!

Those numbers themselves are another narrative, one that no one can quite figure out because there’s a disparity between one part of the stats and other parts. In a very real sense, the numbers don’t seem to add up. But they’re good for the Obama narrative, unless you think too deeply about them.

But one of the points of a narrative is not to think too deeply about it.

Now in a sense every candidate spins a narrative about him/herself, and the media spins a narrative of its own which is either in agreement or disagreement with that candidate’s preferred narrative. But Barack Obama is the first presidential candidate I can think of — be they liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, someone I have liked and supported or someone I have detested and opposed — who is nearly all about the narrative, and who seems so aware of it As Hot Air points out Obama actually believes he won the debate.

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