It really is the “silly season” of politics, friends, and now Barack Obama and his Democrat supporters are trying to save Big Bird. Or to put it more correctly, they’re trying to use Big Bird to save the Obama campaign. At the presidential debate on Wednesday evening, Mitt Romney actually threatened to make PBS pay for itself.
At PBS, the chicken coup where the big yellow fowl hangs out, they weren’t pleased. The CEO immediately went on the defensive. I’m not sure exactly what sex Big Bird is, but clearly for the CEO this bird is laying eggs made of gold. She receives well over $600,000 per year as salary. Now I’m stunned.
Speaking directly to the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer (an employee of PBS), Romney said, “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. I 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 it.”
Why is it so egregious to suggest that PBS fund itself like all other television networks? According to New York Times columnnist Charles Blow, it’s because Mitt Romney hates poor people. Addressing Romney for his remark, Blow asks, “do you know anything about looking out for the less fortunate … or do you think they’re all grouches scrounging around in trash cans?” Mr. Blow really is blowing something our way. It seems to be political smoke. It can be used to provide cover for President Obama.
Over at PBS, Paula Kerger (the well-paid CEO) said it’s “stunning” that Romney would single out PBS in his remarks. Her comment, and those of others who find Romney’s “attack” to be appalling are being covered widely in the press. There’s talk of a million-muppet march and a revolt by moms everywhere who don’t have time to entertain their kids. There’s even a photograph making the rounds in which the poor bird is standing in line with 1930s-era unemployed waiting for a handout.
For just a moment, America, can we put our feelings aside and use our brains? Isn’t there more to making funding decisions than just the fact that some things make us feel warm and fuzzy inside? I adore Big Bird, too. I adore all the Muppets. I think children should have the help they need to grow and develop solid skills for success. How could I not? I’m an educator!
It is not my intention to challenge the usefulness of educational programming. What I do challenge–in the most energetic of ways–is the assumption that children won’t get those skills unless the federal government pays for their dissemination on PBS. Quite literally, there are many sources for gaining knowledge and skills. Those sources include twelve years or more of free schooling and thousands of free libraries all over the nation. And let’s not forget that in 1990 the US Congress enacted the Children’s Television Act (CTA), mandating every TV broadcast station in the country to provide three hours of educational programming per week. In addition, that programming must have a minimal amount of advertising and must be aired during particular times of day when children are watching.
How many education channels do we need before someone realizes that government funds aren’t necessary for people to learn? We have the History Channel, History Channel 2, Discovery, National Geographic, Science Channel, Disney Channel, Animal Planet, Food Network, Biography, the Military Channel and more. We even have music channels aimed at teaching and entertaining children such as Kidz Only and Toddler Tunes. These channels are 100% educational all the time. As Rasmussen pointed out earlier this year, 63% of the nation’s poor homes have cable television, meaning that a wide array of these educational resources is available to most of the poor.
Should PBS be saved? Sure, that sounds fine. But let PBS find its funding the same way that every other broadcast network finds their funding: by advertising. No more “games.” Public broadcast stations actually already have advertising, but it comes across as plugs for their donors and the foundations that support its programming. If you look closely at those foundations, they most often have policies and directives that lean left. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. But don’t shovel a load in my direction while trying to sell me the idea that there is no bias at PBS.
And let’s also not suppose that the well-paid CEO at PBS is acting from motives of benevolence or altruism. She receives a large salary and she would like to keep receiving it, preferably at taxpayer expense. I can’t really blame her for wanting to be paid well. Don’t we all want that? The difference is that most of us aren’t expecting our neighbors to come up with our salary by way of force through taxation.
To my mind, the argument that PBS must be publicly funded has about the same validity as the weak argument that tax dollars must be used to provide cell phones to the poor. This is one more feel-good project that is being abused on a massive scale. Should people have easy access to a phone, especially in the case of an emergency? Of course. That’s what pay phones are for. They are cheap and they can be found almost everywhere (though their number has declined due to the proliferation of cell phones). In addition, calls to 911 can be placed without cost.
I’m a constitutionalist. I believe we need to return to the original understanding of our nation’s Founders regarding the prerogatives, powers, and expense of the federal government. Those prerogatives, powers, and expenses should be limited. I’m also a Christian and a theologian. I do not advocate abandoning those who are truly poor and truly unable to help themselves. But just because an idea sounds charitable and makes us feel more virtuous about ourselves doesn’t mean that we are obligated to put that idea into practice.
In the end, politicians speak about their care for the poor but in reality they’re buying votes with the political giveaways that are paid for on the backs of others. It’s unjust. It’s unfair. It’s excessive. And more than ever, it badly needs to be reformed.
Thanks to the Obama campaign and its emotion-driven, giveaway agenda, Big Bird has become the latest symbol of national decline. The debate isn’t about whether we’ll care for the poor or not. Our choice isn’t between rugged individualism or community concern. It’s not between capitalism or working together, as Obama is trying to convince us. Capitalism and free markets are one of humanity’s most perfect examples of what it means to work together. I have economic needs. You have economic goods to sell. I have talents that are marketable and you have need of my skills.
See how it works?
The longer we wait for government the poorer we become. The more government spends, the weaker our economy gets. The costs of excessive government beneficence outweigh the benefits.
Big Bird, we love you. We love you so much that we’re setting you free to find your own funding. ABC, CBS, Fox, and all the others have made it work for them. So please take your pretty yellow hand out of my pocket and get to work.