Big Bird becomes big debate in presidential campaign

Big Bird is flying high in the 2012 presidential campaign. President Barack Obama's campaign deployed the beloved "Sesame Street" icon in a new TV ad Tuesday mocking Mitt Romney for saying he would defund public broadcasting if elected.
AP Wire
Oct 12, 2012


The foundation backing "Sesame Street" quickly disavowed the spot, and Romney dismissed it as un-serious even though the Republican hopeful brought Big Bird into the national political conversation at last week's presidential debate.

Big Bird has been a big deal since Romney, in outlining ways he would cut federal spending, said, "I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS," adding, "I like PBS, I love Big Bird."

Romney's vow to de-fund public broadcasting has been a staple of his campaign appearances for months, but the nationally televised declaration last week in Denver — more than 67 million were watching — gave it a much broader audience than ever before.

Romney's comment drew immediate reaction on social media, with users posting online photos of Big Bird appearing down on his luck or searching for work. Mock Big Birds have followed Romney to campaign events, and the real Big Bird even made an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" last weekend.

"I feel like I'm famous now. I was walking down the street the other day and felt like everyone recognized me," Big Bird said.

The "Sesame Street" dis offered an opening to Obama, who has faced strong backlash for his widely panned debate performance. At rallies and campaign appearances every day since the debate, he has used Romney's remark and referenced other "Sesame Street" characters to mock his opponent in a way audiences find funny and relatable.

"He said he'd bring down our deficit by going after what has been the biggest driver of our debt and deficits over the last decade — public television, PBS," Obama told people at a fundraiser Monday in San Francisco. "Elmo has been seen in a white Suburban. He's driving for the border. Oscar is hiding out in his trashcan. We're cracking down on them."

The satiric Obama campaign ad, set to air on national broadcast and cable stations, echoes that theme. The ad shows images of convicted financiers including Bernie Madoff and Enron's Ken Lay, and suggests Romney believes Big Bird is responsible for their crimes.

"Big, yellow, a menace to our economy," the ad says. "Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about, it's Sesame Street."

While Romney's comment drew criticism from PBS the day after the debate, the Sesame Workshop, which supports "Sesame Street" and other public broadcasting shows, demanded that Obama's campaign remove the ad.

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

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the campaign was reviewing the organization's concerns.

Romney, campaigning in Iowa, dismissed the Big Bird ad as inconsequential and suggested Obama was focusing on trivial matters rather than the economy and high unemployment.

"These are tough times with real serious issues, so you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird." Romney told a cheering crowd. "I actually think we need to have a president who talks about saving the American people and saving good jobs and saving our future."

With his newfound political celebrity, Big Bird has emerged as the latest star in a campaign proxy war over a larger policy issue.

In 2008, Joe Wurzelbacher, or "Joe the Plumber," set off a proxy battle over tax policy when he asked Obama about his tax plan for small business. Obama's videotaped reply, in which he told Wurzelbacher that "when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody," prompted Republican John McCain to seize the statement as evidence that Obama supported socialist tax policies. Obama doubled down on his argument that higher income earners should be taxed more than the middle class.

This year, Big Bird is serving as a central actor in the debate over federal spending in tough economic times.

Public broadcasting has long drawn the scorn of many conservatives who see it as wasteful and having a liberal bias. Romney has framed it as a fiscal issue, suggesting shows like "Sesame Street" should charge for advertising like other television stations and shouldn't depend on the federal government for support.
Obama, for his part, has tried to frame the controversy as a matter of conservative overreach, suggesting that Romney and others would cut funding for much-beloved children's programming while giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

PBS receives a portion of its funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives an annual appropriation from Congress. In 2012, CPB received $445 million in federal funding. PBS said in a news release after last week's presidential debate that public broadcasting receives about one-100th of 1 percent of the federal budget.






So this is the best Obama and his team got? Wow! We are watching his campaign collapse in front of our eyes. Wait to the debate on foreign policy comes up! Gonna be hard to put up silly distractions such as this to avoid this cover up.


This is the "jump the shark" moment for the Obama campaign.


I think the intent of the big bird comment was that the government is wasting money in general in stupid places. If it was a set up to make the funny democrats use it in their politcal ads its working...they look stupid for attacking this. I find it funny that Obama feels the need to defend big bird like this. Bunch of political idiots... It was an example, get it?..probably not


not to mention that this is probably the best oduma supporters can come up with after he made himself look like a complete incompetent moron in front of America. Keep up the good work, you "1 term president" LIAR


I disagree that the "intent" of the remark was to say the government is "wasting money" on something stupid. Romney expresed a view questioning the wisdom of borrowing money from China to pay for a children's television charachter (indirectly through government grants to the corporation for public broadcasting) that generates millions of $$$ in product sales.


so little kids that are barely old enough to talk are pumping millions of dollars in product sales? The government needs to take its hand out of the cookie jar period. I don't care if they give 1 penny to PBS, its still to much. Its gotta start somewhere, and big bird has got to go if he can't make it on his own.


You might find Public Broadcasting stupid, but millions of people - adults and children - have received so much in the way of education, entertainment, and unbiased news. I'd put my tax dollars any day into Public Broadcasting versus the $4 Billion in subsidies the Oil and Gas Industries get a year (even with profits exceeding any other), or the $727 Million/year that pays for the US house of Representatives office expenses, like pens, paper, etc.


Well Laninvain, sounds like your a fiscal conservative. You should attend a Tea party rally as your ideas would be welcome. Make it easy in November and vote straight Republican ticket so we can start getting the nation's fiscal house in order.


Thanks for the invite, Wingmaster. As a fiscal conservative, I'd half consider it, but I'm afraid that's where the similarities end. I'm all for cutting spending by eliminating waste and corruption across the board, but also for increasing revenues, especially on the super rich who have seen their wealth grow by $1.7 Trillion in 2011 alone. Never on the middle class, whose income has stagnated and with the recent Great Bush Recession, has been thrown into poverty levels with unemployment - the kind of unemployment Romney created when he bought businesses, gutted them, soaked the money out, and sent the jobs overseas. The kind of jobs that could be created by Obama's jobs bills, even creating jobs for our returning war heroes, that the Republicans in Congress have blocked continuously even when they brought about the severe recession by spending borrowed money for 2 wars and huge tax cuts for the super rich "job creators". The nation's fiscal house has slowly begun to improve and will improve even more as people get decent-wage jobs, start paying taxes and buying stuff. After all, for the last 13 years corporations have enjoyed the lowest tax rate in 80 years ,,,,,,,why did those job creators take their tax cuts and send the jobs overseas? Also, another reason why I would never accept your invitation and vote Republican is that every chart, graph, and history book will tell you that all the biggest spending happened under Republican presidents. Democratic presidents have historically lower spending. I wish the current crop of congressional Republicans would spend our taxpayer time and money actually working on these serious issues, instead of attacking women's rights, and of course, their urgent need to de-fund Sesame Street.


Ah Lanivan, we have to stop meeting like this. I guess you missed Sheriff Joe announcing that the middle class has been buried over the last 4 years; ridiculing Romney for saying the middle class went up to $250,000 – without realizing that is Obama's definition, that the wars accounted for little of the debt, that Obama reinstated the so-called Bush tax cuts because it is stupid to raise taxes in a recession (his words); that his subsidized GM is moving plants from the US to China. I have a challenge for you, Mr. or Mrs. Lanivan – your beloved democrats always say “Let's bring the tax rates back to Reagan/Clinton – your choice. I agree, as long as it is coupled with the level of federal spending during the Reagan or Clinton years – an exact percentage – taxes and spending. Will you agree Brother/Sister? Can I get an AMEN?


AMEN......let's get back to the Clinton years before the deregulation of Glass-Steagall, when interest rates were at a respectable level so we could make a little interest here and there, when welfare and abortion were at their lowest level in years, unemployment was in the low 4's, and there was no talk of privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare which would leave millions of aging baby boomers (you and me?) out in the curb. Too bad Bush had to squander all that Clinton surplus and run up the US deficit/debt (!) with those "temporary" tax cuts. Who would have guessed 4% in tax cuts and 2 wars on borrowed money could make such a mess!! Joe made a great point - the reckless spending of the Bush years, coupled with the unprecedented GOP obstruction to all middle-class friendly legislation and total disregard for the middle class, leaves us very nearly buried. He is an astute guy. Maybe you and I should run for office, Vlad! Totally opposing views, but at least we can engage in civil discourse....


Simple question deserves a simple answer: “Let's bring the tax rates back to Reagan/Clinton – your choice. I agree, as long as it is coupled with the level of federal spending during the Reagan or Clinton years – an exact percentage – taxes and spending. Will you agree Brother/Sister?


Ah, not really that simple. A problem is the debt as a percentage of the GDP is much larger now than when Reagan (or even Clinton for that matter) was President. In your scenario, an "exact percentage" of taxes and spending would include a MUCH larger amount going to servicing the debt (interest payments) that does NOTHING to "stimulate" growth (if you're the Keynesian type)
Of the two men running for President, only one has said this level of debt is "immoral". Hard to say I don't agree with that statement.


How's your blood pressure tonight Lan. Maybe you should enjoy some PBS programing tonight before President Romney cuts funding! Your missing the point of this whole Big Bird PBS thing. Romney was making a point about funding of programs we cannot afford in the economy we are in. You look at him with disdain for his career but he understands how to exact efficiencies from a business. Same thing he will do with our country to get it back on track. Face it, Obama had his shot. He has not moved the needle, time for someone new to give it their shot. If he doesn't move the needle, we get to vote again in 4 years.


Feelin' good tonight and I do get it. Absolutely we need to cut spending. I want it to be in defense when we have the biggest military of all allies combined, not PBS which takes up 0.0012% of the budget. I want more revenue - let those temporary tax cuts on the super rich expire. Trickle down is not working. We need a different approach. When I look at Obama, I see a president who has worked hard for our country and has accomplished great things. I can't think of a single reason why we shouldn't give him 4 more years.


Let's agree its all on the table! No sacred cows. You know as well as I do that there are no politicians that are not endeared to big money from both sides of the political spectrum. We the people are only stooges in this game when we suck up to a party no matter what they say. Trickle down government is not working either. We need a viable third party to break this. We have stark differences in candidates this year but big fat money is behind both. If you are as smart as you fancy yourself to be, you know something needs to be done with the state of our nations politics. Engage your energize there if you really want to be known for something. Oh, I think we need the biggest, baddest armed forces in the world to protect us while we sit in our comfy homes debating freely tonight so careful what you cut there.

Tri-cities realist

Actually all of the biggest spending happened during Democrat control of Congress, which is where all appropriations bills originate. And yes the Republican Presidents did not veto them, so they are equally to blame.


HERE'S THE FACTS. Big Bird and company made $144,000,000 (yes that's MILLION) in PROFIT last year. They should not be getting a dime from the American people. Also, Obama and friends slipped them a cool $1.8 million in stimulus money two years ago when they didn't need it ($131,000,000 profit that year)...A lot of PBS programming is profitable. Make them support each other or do pledge drives...Michigan Out of Doors gets cash from me.


I have no idea where you come up with $144 million - couldn't find anything about that, but I did find the following: PBS has been around since 1967. It is strictly non-profit. It does not operate on profit. It operates on about 60% private donations, foundation and corporate giving, and about 40% from state, local, and federal taxes.
It employs about 21,000 people, who could find themselves in the unemployment lines if Romney has his way. And the WEIRDEST thing I found is this: As Gov of Mass, Romney signed into law the creation of $4.2 million for the WGBH Boston PBS!!!!! Wow - just a few years later, he's flip-flopping and Etch-A-Sketching into de-funding Sesame Street and Masterpiece Theater. Does this man have any values or beliefs? He and his party do believe in this: Lie, Deny, Switch & Double-speak.


Lanivan – the issue for most of us is not the amount of federal funding received by PBS, it is the concept of the government funding a private sector corporation that is in competition with non-subsidized companies. It does put itself in our cross hairs by consistently following the liberal democrat political positions. The federal appropriation for NPR for 2013 is $445,000,000.

As far as your concerns that some of NPR's employees might find themselves unemployed if they fail to successfully compete against other non-subsidized media corporations, welcome to the real world. Of course, if you were the actor who plays Big Bird, it might indeed be difficult to replicate his annual salary of $314,000 by waving by the roadside in his chicken suit trying to attract customers to Chik Fil A. Your statement that “Romney signed into law the creation of $4.2 million for the WGBH Boston PBS!!!!!” is completely misleading!!!!! Romney signed a law that, much like many states, including Michigan, offers companies $1 in film tax credits for every $4 they spend filming movies, television shows, and commercials in the state — including for PBS. Having a fund for tax credits available to all companies for spending money filming in a state is a far cry from having a specific appropriation for only one company for $445 million in one year. Just interested in ensuring that you did not inadvertently repeat some misleading information, friend.


PBS runs commercials and they have sponsors which is the same as commercials. They need to stand on their own merit. Is it really worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? NO. We have to make CUTS, and PBS is just the beginning. We waste so much money. Just look at the battery plants in Holland. Unbelievable.


...Also a part of Jim Henson's legendary career, "Sesame Street" is an example of a public broadcasting show that's made big money. The merchandising of "Sesame Street" has brought in over 211 million in toy and consumer product sales between 2003 to 2006. The rights to "Sesame Street" were sold to German company EM.TV, which in turn sold off the rights in 2001 to not-for-profit Sesame Workshop. Hasbro now holds the rights for "Sesame Street" toy products from 2011 to 2020. The toy rights were hotly desired by competing toy company Mattel.

Read more:'s-franchises/#ixzz29OTkiNxL


Love the lying sack of Mitt sign! So true!


Hey your right. Why didn't the Trib sensor the picture. Isn't this slanderous? We need a council for proper treatment off our presidential candidates. Wonder why we never see signs about Obama that are slanderous?


Mitt Romney is the future President Of The United States Of America! VOTE ROMNEY!


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