Today’s WTF: Is Obama’s Big Bird ad jumping the shark?

Not a lot of time to hang around the WordPress clubhouse today, folks, but I did want to discuss a new Obama campaign video that I saw this morning. I know most of you have seen it by now yourselves, but here it is just in case:


I think this ad is funny, but I also think it can play two ways. Those who are on the “Save PBS” bandwagon (and that would include me) will enjoy it and receive its message willingly. But I can also see another side to this, where we could be jumping the shark a little bit, at least in terms of how this PBS issue is being used by the Obama campaign itself.

Everyone with common sense saw how ridiculous Romney’s  Big Bird comment was the other night. The idea that cutting government funding of public television could be a viable option as a cure for our economic woes was laughable in the extreme, and it really did  make Romney appear both heartless AND clueless. I mean, he basically fired Jim Lehrer right there on live national television, which is a dick move no matter what you think of PBS. And people responded immediately. This has become a national talking point, with lots of people defending public television – and rightfully so.

But now that the general public has taken this cause under their big, yellow wing, maybe Obama can ease up on it a bit from his end. I don’t think we want him to come off as being too preoccupied with Sesame Street, right at this particular moment. He can leave that up to us. We didn’t like the idea of losing Big Bird and we are in pre-emptive strike mode. We’re organizing marches and sending emails to our elected officials and donating to PBS ourselves. We got this.

If there is anything left for the Obama campaign to say regarding the PBS controversy, then it should move beyond mere ridicule. There are substantive points to be made in connection with this issue, and some important contrasts between the two candidates to be emphasized. For example, one could make the case that this anti-public television stance is linked to a Republican lack of support of education in general, and bring those differences on education policy to light. This all feeds in to the narrative that Romney and Ryan want to privatize pretty much EVERYTHING, and that includes shows like Sesame Street that provide pre-schoolers (particularly those in lower-income families) with positive educational programming. Public television and public education work hand in hand, and both need government support in order to work effectively for all Americans.

Another tactic would be to use the PBS comment as a springboard into a discussion on job creation. The president may want to remind people that Romney is the guy who likes being able to fire people, and he can point out that Romney was eager to do exactly that to poor old Jim Lehrer during he debate. Then he can explain that firing people is basically the opposite of job creation, and that there may be a better plan than letting Big Bird and his buddies go. This gives you a way to launch into your recently-released 7.8% unemployment numbers, and to discuss the specific things that you would do that will be way more effective in growing jobs and our economy than cutting funding for PBS. How about the tax incentives Obama has proposed that would be offered to businesses that invest and hire here in the US, instead of overseas? When you compare that to Romney’s proposal to eliminate all taxes on the foreign profits that corporations make (a plan that would actually ENCOURAGE  businesses to keep their money and jobs overseas), then you’ve made an important and clear distinction between Romney’s priorities and Obama’s priorities when it comes to jobs.

I imagine that a skilled political strategist could come up with several more ways to build this PBS thing into a narrative that helps the president on the campaign trail. But I would hope that if they don’t choose to go that way, then they will let it drop right about now. We have a lot of other stuff going on in this country that the president can be addressing very effectively. I would like to see him doing just that. The Big Bird thing will be playing itself out in the media and with the general public, and it doesn’t necessarily serve Obama’s cause to linger on it too long simply for the purposes of knocking Romney. If it can be used to illuminate policy differences between the two, then I say go for it. If it’s just going to be the equivalent of this:

…then I think Obama can, and should,  do better.  I would hate to see this become a distraction, or even an opportunity for Romney to turn the tables and mock Obama for worrying more about Muppets than about other issues. Seriously, Mr. President – we already got Big Bird’s back. You do your thing and we’ll take this one from here. ‘Kay?


9 thoughts on “Today’s WTF: Is Obama’s Big Bird ad jumping the shark?

  1. It’s an attempt to pound that into people’s head as the one lingering narrative of the first debate, which, let’s face it, was an unmitigated disaster for the President.

    Sesame Street just sent the Obama campaign a cease and desist request, so I think that’s it for the Big Bird stuff, at least as far as ads go.

    • You could be right, though I wonder if it’s not the other way around. Was it Obama trying to make this Big Bird thing a talking point, or was it a talking point already, leading Obama to jump on the bandwagon with the ad? A real “chicken and the egg” question there…which I guess is entirely appropriate. Because birds.

  2. Romney can’t kill Big Bird . Big Bird can make real money once he is off the dole . He doesn’t need it . The PBS comment by Governor Romney is valid . Big cuts and symbolic small cuts will be made eventually because we cannot keep borrowing at our present rate .

    Your jumping the shark point is true. The country has large problems and President Obama is harping on Big Bird . Not Presidential .

    • I agree that we can’t keep borrowing at our present rate. I disagree that Romney’s comment on PBS was “valid”, because it would be nothing more than “symbolic” to cut that funding. It would be cutting just for the sake of saying you’re cutting, without using appropriate discrimination to determine if the program is providing the country with services that are equal to or greater than the amount it takes to fund them. That’s not smart cutting, it’s “just for the hell of it” cutting. And if you are also going to add $2 trillion in defense budget expenditures, despite the fact that there has been no request for such an increase by our own military leaders, then it negates the validity of your claim to be serious about deficit reduction.

  3. Chris ,

    When Barak Obama ran for President ‘ he ‘ said that he would go through the budget line by line to make sure there was no wasteful spending . He ran as Calvin Coolidge . Obviously he has been no Calvin Coolidge ,

    Mitt Romney was making the same kind of statement . We can only wait to see if he means it . And lets talk defense spending . Do you think that defense is really the place to get cheap ? I wonder how many nickels the Obama Administration saved at the Libyan Consulate by not having enough security .

    I figure Mitt Romney sure cannot do any worse than Barak Obama in cutting the deficit . If you actually cut spending and then get people working and paying taxes, the deficit will go down . Obama never thought of that .

    • The spending on security in Libya was not something the president decided upon himself. Both Democrats AND Republicans in Congress voted to reduce that funding, as it has turned out during this investigation. As for defense spending in general, I don’t think that maintaining current funding levels is “cheap”. I think if you’re going to suggest adding that much to a defense budget in lean times, you need to justify what it’s for and why it’s necessary – and according to our military leaders, it IS NOT necessary. I think we should spend smarter, not just spend more.

  4. I see someone above commented that Sesame Street told the Obama campaign to stop. Honestly, I did not like this tactic to begin with. It seems like low-balling to me and not much better than a Romney move. Like you said, leave it to us. We’ve done plenty with meme’s, jokes, videos, blogging, tweets, etc.

    LOL… and this all started from a tweet, “don’t kill Big Bird.” I wonder if that person knows it was them that started this and ended with Obama campaign making a video. If that first tweet had not have hit the twitter waves, I seriously doubt we would be talking about it now.

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