Apparently, Frank Sinatra served as Mitt Romney’s debate coach. As he put it about halfway through “That’s Life”:
“I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly . . . ”
That’s what Mitt did in Denver. Ten minutes in, he jumped right on Big Bird, and then he took off — and never looked back, while the other fellow, whose name escapes me, never got out of the gate. It takes a certain panache to clobber not just your opponent but also the moderator. Yet that’s what the killer Mormon did when he declared that he wasn’t going to borrow money from China to pay for Jim Lehrer and Big Bird on PBS. It was a terrific alpha-male moment, not just in that it rattled Lehrer, who seemed too preoccupied contemplating a future reading the hog prices on the WZZZ Farm Report to regain his grip on the usual absurd format, but in the sense that it indicated a man entirely at ease with himself — in contrast to wossname, the listless sourpuss staring at his shoes.
Yet, amidst the otherwise total wreckage of their guy’s performance, the Democrats seemed to think that Mitt’s assault on Sesame Street was a misstep from whose tattered and ruined puppet-stuffing some hay is to be made. “WOW!!! No PBS!!! WTF how about cutting congress’s stuff leave big bird alone,” tweeted Whoopi Goldberg. Even the president mocked Romney for “finally getting tough on Big Bird” — not in the debate, of course, where such dazzling twinkle-toed repartee might have helped, but a mere 24 hours later, once the rapid-response team had directed his speechwriters to craft a line, fly it out to a campaign rally, and load it into the prompter, he did deliver it without mishap.
Mitt’s decision to strap Big Bird to the roof of his station wagon and drive him to Canada has prompted two counterarguments from Democrats: (1) Half a billion dollars is a mere rounding error in the great sucking maw of the federal budget, so why bother? (2) Everybody loves Sesame Street, so Mitt is making a catastrophic strategic error. On the latter point, whether or not everybody loves Sesame Street, everybody has seen it, and every American under 50 has been weaned on it. So far this century it’s sold nigh on a billion bucks’ worth of merchandising sales (that’s popular toys such as the Subsidize-Me-Elmo doll). If Sesame Street is not commercially viable, then nothing is, and we should just cut to the chase and bail out everything.
Conversely, if this supposed “public” broadcasting brand is capable of standing on its own, then so should it. As for the rest of PBS’s output — the eternal replays of the Peter, Paul & Mary reunion concert, twee Brit sitcoms, Lawrence Welk reruns and therapeutic infomercials — whatever their charms, it is difficult to see why the Brokest Nation in History should be borrowing money from the Chinese Politburo to pay for it. A system by which a Communist party official in Beijing enriches British comedy producers by charging it to American taxpayers with interest is not the most obvious economic model. Yet, as Obama would say, the government did build that.
I wonder if Mitt Romney knew what the reaction would be when he brought up defunding PBS. I doubt it – if he did then he’s waaaaay smarter than anyone gives him credit for. But whether he planned it or not it’s a conversation we need to have.
Sesame Street is not really the issue here. I’m pretty sure that franchise would survive just fine without government assistance. Mitt never said he wanted to kill Big Bird, he just wants to kick him off the dole.
PBS, on the other hand, might not survive without a government subsidy. If they do survive they will probably need to start selling advertising. Who knows, they might start even with selling ads for Sesame Street toys and clothing.
The problem isn’t that PBS is a bad thing, nor does it eat up some big portion of the federal budget. The problem isn’t that we can’t afford PBS. It’s that PBS is representative of a bigger problem.
Right now our government borrows $.40 out of every dollar it spends. That’s right, FORTY PERCENT (40%) of everyday government spending is put on our national VISA card.
That has to stop. And don’t give me no bullshit about how a government budget is different from a household budget because the same mathematical principles apply to both. We cannot spend our way out of debt. Let me repeat that:
WE CANNOT SPEND OUR WAY OUT OF DEBT!
To borrow from an anti-war slogan, “Spending your way out of debt is like fucking your way into virginity.” It is also a violation of the First Rule of Holes.
When times are tough we sometimes need to put some stuff on credit. But that is a temporary measure. If you are facing a drop in income or an increase in expenses you need to go through your budget and figure out what is essential and what isn’t. Then you start cutting the non-essentials.
PBS is about as non-essential as it gets. If we can’t cut PBS what can we cut? Mitt offered us an excellent test for all government spending:
Is it worth borrowing money from China to pay for?
That test should be applied to every single item in the federal budget.