Big Bird vs. Our Grandchildren

Killer Bird
I'm sure you've heard it; it's all over the intertubes.  Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird.  Which would be terrible, if that is what he meant when he said that he planned to cut federal subsidies to PBS.  But as with all things more complicated than counting to 1-2-3 or singing the ABCs, context matters.  Perhaps it's time for those of us who grew up with Big Bird to listen a little more carefully to the argument that's on the table here.

For those of you who weren't watching, this is what Mr. Romney actually said:
What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: 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.
I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect, by the way.
OBAMA: I like it.
ROMNEY: Good. OK, 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. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That's number one.
 "I'm not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for."  That's the test: do you love Big Bird so much that you would borrow money from China to pay for him?  Because you know whom you are actually borrowing money from when you do that?  Your grandchildren.  Because they are the ones that are going to have to pay off your debt for wanting the government to pay for things indefinitely, even good things, even things that you might have loved when you were a child. 

I wish that I were a political cartoonist and could render some of the images that came to mind when I started seeing all of the Big Bird lampoons of Romney's position.  Here are a few:
  • Two grown-ups embracing Big Bird in their living room as their children are taken away by China.  Grown-ups: "We love you, Big Bird!"  The children are labelled "the National Debt."
  • An adult sitting on the corner, begging for change (pun intended).  Adult: "I'd rather have Big Bird than a job."
  • A sign in a shop window: "Not hiring.  We stand with the Bird." 
  • Sponge Bob to Big Bird: "You didn't build that."*
  • Big Bird thumbing his nose at the eagle on the reverse of the quarter dollar.  Big Bird: "Who's the big bird now?"

*Is this one too subtle?  The point being that Sponge Bob is another big, yellow character loved by children of all ages all over the world, but that his show appears on a commercially-supported, private enterprise station and yet he still seems to survive.


  1. Hi, again. I know I'm popping up all over. I guess I have too much time on my hands.

    But this post doesn't really make the argument it's supposed to, sort of like Mitt. I'm pretty sure that we can continue to provide the 0.014% of our federal government to partially fund creative educational programming for children that the private sector has little incentive to produce. If you object to the content, that's something different. But the financial atgument is meaningless. By the way, did you know that the federal reserve and other intergovernmental holdings of us debt are about five timed the size of china's holdings? Combined mutual fund, insurance company, state goverment and depository institution holdings also surpass those of china. It's interesting what you can find on the internet other than political cartoons.

  2. Definitely too much time on your hands! As I understood it, PBS was given as an example. Anything Mr. Romney mentioned as an example of a single cut could be criticized for not being enough, other than, e.g., our entire defense budget. (Because I know we're not allowed to even mention cuts to our social services.)

    As for the specific question of whether our private sector has the incentive to produce educational material, have you been to the children's section of a bookstore lately? The last time I looked, they were stocking books. (Mind you, my son is 16 now, so it's been a while since we were reading Susan Boynton's ABC's.)

    Go, write your own book and send me a copy! I am supposed to be annotating my translation of John of Garland's thirteenth-century allegorical textbook on the liberal arts right now, not becoming an expert in contemporary fiscal policy.

  3. On another note, call me elitist, but I don't think children should be watching television. At all. Our television "broke" when my son was 2 years old. We watched nothing but videos with friends until he was old enough to figure out how to stream them on his own laptop. Watching television is bad for young children; it addicts them just like any other drug. And, yes, I read a book about that, too: Marie Winn, The Plug-In Drug: Television, Children, and the Family, first published in 1977.

  4. Oh, I rather agree about television. You have sort of ignored my point that you show little understanding of the structure of our federal debt. And, moreover that the original debate argument assumes that most listeners have little understanding and will therefore be irrationally worried by the sitiation and irrationally impressed by the 'solution'. Either that or romney doesn't really know much about either the debt or the budget.

  5. Hi, again! Still not going to introduce yourself? You can, you know, by sending me an email.

    I doubt very much that anybody listening to Romney thought that eliminating the federal support for PBS would solve all the budget problems. It was an example. Did you really expect him to list all of the hundreds of programs that would be reviewed with "worth it to be in debt to China" in mind? As I remember from the last election, Obama promised to do pretty much the same thing: go line by line and cut out "waste." And here we are, even further in debt than we were then. It seems to me you are asking pretty much the same question that Romney was: how much does one want to be in debt to China? You see the level of the debt that we have at the moment as not a problem; fine. Not everyone agrees.


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