“If you don’t have a record to run on,” Obama said in 2008, “you make a big election about small things.”
With a sluggish economy, chaos in Libya, a looming confrontation with Iran, an unpopular health care law and a fiscal cliff fast approaching, the president has decided to make a big election about Big Bird.
“There’s been a strong grassroots outcry over the attacks on Big Bird,” Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One this week, apparently with a straight face. “There’s only one candidate in this race who is going to continue to fight for Big Bird and Elmo, and he is riding on this plane.”
Portraying Romney’s case for setting budget priorities as an “attack on Big Bird” is simply unbelievable. Even more unbelievable is that one candidate would sway voters by standing up for a pair of fictional characters whose creators, Sesame Workshop and its various subsidiaries, earned $134 million in revenues last year alone.
If anything useful may come from arguing the merits of subsidizing “Sesame Street” in particular and public broadcasting generally, it will be in the context of the ongoing debate over the proper size and scope of government. That’s a big thing for a big election.
To claim that $445 million for the CPB is a miniscule item within a $3.7 trillion budget, the answer must be: So what? Many public goods do not require government subsidies. Defense, at least, is a clear constitutional duty of government. Providing quality children’s television is not.
In the present crisis, serious people need to reassess whether it’s a wise use of public money to underwrite public TV — because unless Congress acts before the end of the year, everyone’s taxes will go up.
The choice doesn’t come down to Big Bird versus Honey Boo Boo. The choice is necessity versus frivolity.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.