Sometimes politics are for the birds ... big, big birds

Opinion column

Photo by Jim Hendricks

Photo by Jim Hendricks

If you believe what you read on the Internet these days, if Mitt Romney wins the election next month he'll have a celebration dinner his first night at the White House featuring an entree of roasted Big Bird.

Since the debate last week, Romney's poll numbers have risen dramatically -- he was trailing Obama among likely voters by 8 points in September, but now leads Obama with that group by 4 points, according to Pew Research Center polls. With that 12 percentage point swing among likely voters, according to the poll, he leads Obama 49 percent to 45 percent, and among registered voters they are tied at 46 percent. That came after a Pew Center poll before the debate showed that 60 percent of respondents expected Obama to win big in the face-off.

So what has been the Obama campaign's reaction? Attack ads focused on jobs -- Big Bird and his "Sesame Street" pals' jobs.

What it comes back to was a debate question from Jim Lehrer, the Public Broadcasting System news anchor who moderated the debate. He asked Romney where he was going to look for federal spending cuts that President Obama hadn't considered, and Romney looked back at him.


"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 I like you, too. But ... I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for," Romney replied.

The short of it, at least according to many of the folks on Facebook who can't help regurgitating their every political notion under the misconception that others are interested: Mitt Romney wants to fire Big Bird.

Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and the rest of the at-risk puppets, though, shouldn't blame The Mitt if they have a precarious employment situation. They should blame The Frog.

Kermit, after all, has gone on to headline a popular TV variety series and numerous movies, carrying along his pals Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal on his frogtails.

Surely The Frog, in his great success -- "The Muppets" last year grossed $88.6 million at the box office -- could spare a bit part in his next film so that Big Bird won't be reduced to fighting common robins, finches and blue birds for seeds. Big Bird certainly has the size advantage over his fowl competition, but anyone who's watched Hitchcock's "The Birds" knows the damage those diminutive creatures can wreak when properly motivated. And how awful is it that Kermit, relaxing in his plush Hollywood pad, is letting ol' pal Oscar live in a trash can back in the old neighborhood?

Surely Big Bird and Oscar still have Kermit's phone number and a government-issued cell phone with which they can call him. Or Elmo, for that matter. What rock star like Elmo couldn't use a gigantic yellow bird and street-smart alley dweller as, if not backup singers, bodyguards?

Some observations: (1) Cutting out federal money spent on public broadcasting would barely be noticed -- if it's noticed at all -- when it comes to cutting the federal deficit, (2) Romney didn't indicate he would begin and stop with cuts at PBS, as everyone seems to have missed the words "I'm going to stop other things," (3) "Sesame Street" and PBS would be hurting, but they would not go out of business if the federal money dried up, (4) conservatives have long wanted to cut funding for PBS because they see it as having a strong pro-liberal stance and (5) it's amazing that in politics the plights of fictional characters get more outrage than those of real people, perhaps because few real people come in 8-foot-2, fuzzy, bright yellow models.

I listen a good bit to National Public Radio channels from Georgia and, when I can get it, Tallahassee, Fla. The news programs I've found to be pretty balanced, but the political opinion and many of the entertainment programs do lean heavily toward the left. Diane Rehm, for instance, drives fast down the left lane every show.

On the "entertainment" side, there's no conservative yin to the yang of programs that feature people like "Le Show's" Harry Schearer and Garrison Keillor, who in his former print columns would only refer to President George W. Bush as the "current occupant of the White House," a slight he no doubt would bristle at if it were employed against Obama.

And yet there is great surprise that conservatives don't want tax money spent on programs that they believe promote liberalism.

Conservatives, meanwhile, would find some genuinely good stuff on NPR and PBS if they listened to it instead of just listening to what others have to say about it. "Sherlock," for instance, is a wonderfully written and acted British show that Americans are unlikely to have experienced without PBS, and I got hooked on "Antique Road Show" years ago. Georgia Public Broadcasting has its "Georgia Traveler" series on interesting people and places in our state. On NPR, "Car Talk" is as entertaining as a car disasters can get, and I love catching the "Eddie's Attic" music show out of Decatur. I'm a big fan of "Radio Lab," and while I've never watched Lehrer's show, I catch "Morning Edition" on the ride in to work and "All Things Considered" on the way home ... on good days, anyway.

If Romney won and lived up to his word, PBS and NPR would be be hurt, but not catastrophically. In 2012, Congress allocated $445 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributed the lion's share -- $222.8 million -- to local public TV stations and $69.3 million to local public radio stations. About 89 percent of the revenue went to programming in some fashion, while 11 percent went to system support ($26.7 million) and CPB administration ($22.25 million).

That $445 million is probably 15-16 percent of PBS's total revenue for the current fiscal year. In FY 2010, the latest breakdown I could find on PBS's website, PBS's budget was $2.7 billion with almost 60 percent of the funds -- $1.6 billion -- coming from private donations, with $591.7 million from state and local governments, colleges and universities, and $88.8 million from federal grants and contracts.

One thing that might surprise you -- in FY 2010, businesses contributed $407.3 million to PBS, nearly as much as the federal government's $420 million that year and more than double the $197 million that came from foundations. More than a quarter of that year's budget -- 26.6 percent -- came from subscribers (or members), who contributed $721.2 million, which is why PBS and NPR have all those annoying membership drives.

Will a Republican administration mean an end to federal PBS subsidies? It's unlikely spending that survived Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes would go away under Romney, though it might be reduced sharply. And that would mean more of those pesky membership drives and the need for private individuals to step up and fill in the gap.

At least it needs to be filled in enough to keep a big yellow desperate Muppet from going bad and raiding your bird feeder every day. You really don't want those finches to get too worked up.

Email Jim Hendricks at jim.hendricks@albanyherald.com.


clb2012now 3 years, 1 month ago

PBS is like the lady who won the lottery and stayed on food stamps. PBS gets such a small portion of the budget and even that can't be cut. What portion of the budget is not going to have it's champion?

The critical focus here is that we need good governance. Good governance just like at home begins with fiscal responsibility. All the mongering and name calling aside, can we talk about the real issue? Who will best lead this country out of recession to more economic strength and fiscal responsibility. We have had better economies under other presidents (Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, JFK) and the common detonators is that they got out of the way of the private sector. You can't continually demonize that sector and then expect it to pull you out of a recession. The business sector needs consistency to make long term decisions not temporary or part time jobs. Keynesian economics is only a short term solution and a costly one at that. Economists disagree on whether Keynesian efforts help or prolong a recovery. From the Keynesian efforts that we have done, I would say that it has prolonged it. This has been the longest recovery ever.

This time, we need the business man's acumen at the top not just advising the president. Our economy has become a national security issue. Our economy has become a social issue. Our economy has become a military issue. We need someone who understands how businesses thrive, how business people think.


Kay523 3 years, 1 month ago

From the leaders who "outsourced" 26 jobs rather than cut the fat at the top of the Herald! Mitt is your hero!


Jacob 3 years, 1 month ago

the jobs went to Florida. Really Kay, that is your definition of outsourcing? Its business. You adjust or die. Something that the current administration cant seem to understand either


Sister_Ruby 3 years, 1 month ago

Has anybody ever gone to WalMart or ToysRUs to buy children's gifts? Don't you all know that the CTW/Sesame Street BRAND is a Billion Dollar business???? They can support themselves and all this PBS bullcrap is just another Democrat smoke and mirrors job. Romney's Rule "Is it worth borrowing money from China that our children and grandchildren will have to pay back in order to fund it" MUST BE APPLIED TO ABOUT A ZILLION THINGS LIKE PBS if we want to balance our national budget and ALSO pay down the National Debt which will be TWENTY FIVE TRILLION DOLLARS in 4 years if Obama gets re-elected. Wake up and smell the CHINESE ATM, everybody!


Shinedownfan 3 years, 1 month ago

Do we really need to borrow $420 Million a year from China to give to PBS? ...And we pay back 40 cents interest on every dollar borrowed... come on people... think!


Cartman 3 years, 1 month ago

Romney's point wasn't about Big Bird or PBS. It was about continuing to spend money that we don't have. Spending borrowed money without an end in sight is bad.


waltspecht 3 years, 1 month ago

You shouldn't be able to have what you can't afford. That is something my Mother and Father taught me years ago. Now, who forgot to teach that to our Politicians?


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