Let’s Kill Big Bird

Mitt Romney’s comments about PBS appear to have had a greater impact on opinions than his performance at the debate. I have come to believe that Obama’s strategy was quite crafty. He drew Mitt out and forced him to state with greater specificity what his plans were on the economy. Mitt being Mitt, got his knickers in a twist and equivocated, fabricated and exaggerated his way through the encounter. He said things that he probably did not want to say, threw the extreme right under the bus, and made claims that were just not true. His comments may come back to haunt him.

And then he made the biggest mistake of the day. He fired Big Bird. The Twitter-wave exploded. How dare he? He threatened a national icon, something with which tens of millions of Americans are familiar. What Mitt really did was to threaten to pull funding for PBS, which includes Public Radio, public television and affiliates around the country. The amount of money given to subsidize PBS is miniscule, a rounding error in the weighty behemoth that is the Federal budget.

Any state has an obligation to its citizens. It must provide for the common defense, and ensure that its citizens are safe and secure in their persons and possessions. That by itself is insufficient. A powerful military does very little directly for the populace other than secure trade and access to resources indirectly through corporations.  A sophisticated modern state needs to do much more for its citizens to remain in the forefront of technology and create a lifestyle befitting a civilized society.

Part of the remit of a modern state is to provide a framework for its people’s medical, housing, work, transport and general infrastructure. These things cannot be provided in totality by the individual. One of the most important parts of a states obligation is to ensure that its citizens are informed about the society in which they find themselves, their rights and obligations, how their nation fits into the great polity of nations, and how events around the world affect them. A voting public that does not fully understand the issues and ideologies facing them cannot be an effective electorate.

This is precisely what PBS provides to the nation. It is a forum where people can discuss important social, political, religious and scientific issues in a relatively non-partisan way. While bias cannot be kept out of the process, people from all facets of life have an opportunity to participate in the debate. PBS informs, educates and presents a wide range of ideas, viewpoints, ideologies and facts without screaming or shouting, with reasonable people involved in the process.

Conservatives don’t like PBS precisely because it presents balanced, fact-based programs. They do not want to hear alternative viewpoints; they want to censor anything that contradicts what they want the facts to be. Facts are uncomfortable, sometimes difficult to swallow, but they are the facts. We can debate them, spin them, twist them, but ultimately, the facts remain whether we like them or not.

Programs like Sesame Street provide an environment in which children can learn about their world in a safe, comforting way, the way education ought to be. It presents the world without hammering facts into tiny minds. Millions of children love the programming; to do away with it would be a crime against those children.

For the most part, corporations have failed to create an environment that can compete with PBS. I listen to Public Radio as much as I can, and I learn an enormous amount about America and about the world that I would not otherwise have learned. I cannot find the incisive, fact based news that is presented by Public Radio anywhere on the radio, and with the exception of Public Television, nowhere on any television station.

The 24 hour news stations like CNN and Fox News, as well as my local CBS, NBC, ABC affiliates produce the most inane, vapid news imaginable. The American populace must be among the most uninformed on the planet. When you enter the US, it is as though a bubble closes over you; the world vanishes and exists only through a narrow, fuzzy peephole. Without PBS I would have no idea who is the premier of China, or India, or Brazil. As it is, I hear very little about the rest of the world, or even the states beyond the one in which I live.

Cutting PBS funding and leaving us to the mercies of News Corp, or Disney, or the other media behemoths ensures that news will become more removed from reality, filled with more propaganda, or insipid local news, censored, sterilized and worthless for informing the populace. It is a conservative dream, a lethargic, somnolent and ill-educated people, easily manipulated, easy to propagandize. Conservatives do not want an alert, engaged population, they want a people that react to what they are told to believe in a positive way.

PBS allows people to think for themselves, to make up their own minds based on the facts. Gutting PBS would be a tragedy for Sesame Street, for Main Street and ultimately for Wall Street. Explain to your children that Big Bird has been Fired.

In a related gaff, Rick Santorum, sometime presidential candidate, had this to say about Big Bird,

“Well, as a matter of fact, I’ve voted to kill Big Bird in the past. I have a record there that I have to disclose. Doesn’t mean I don’t like Big Bird. I mean, you can kill things and still like them — maybe to eat them, I don’t know. “

I have to ask whether Santorum understands what Sesame Street is, or the role that it plays in society. Is he entirely out of touch with reality? Can you really kill things and still like them? “Excuse me sir, while I stick this knife between your ribs, nothing personal, I like you and all that, but the country needs to save money!”

Big Bird is the canary in the coal mine. If Romney is prepared to gut PBS, what lengths will he go to in order to hand government over to corporations? All public sector jobs are at risk. The middle class will end up paying the price in higher taxes and fees for services lost to the public sector. The country cannot afford Romney.
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