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.
Mitt Romney’s PBS rejoinder1 has quickly become the most talked about soundbite from last night’s Presidential debate. It seems as though everyone has a Big Bird joke or critique to share today, quipping that the avian celebrity has been fired or some other nonsense.
But let’s be serious about this. The PBS volley is a stunning bit of political theater; a calculated and workshopped line designed to do exactly what it has done: spread like wildfire. While the wonks break down his many dubious claims, Mitt Romney has thrown the rest of us some gristle. He fit a pop culture reference into a direct threat against the event’s moderator, Jim Lehrer. LOL!
Beneath the fun,2 however, there is something very cynical and dangerous brewing. There is nothing funny about cutting subsidies to Public Broadcasting Systems. The comment that spawned a few comedic Twitter accounts should be seen as a signifier of the stark differences between these two candidates.
I believe in the arts and the media. I believe, with every fiber of my being, that no nation can become or stay great without investing in its most creative citizens. After all, without culture, what are we? Who are we?
So I find it baffling that politicians are constantly willing to put arts and media funding on the chopping block, but I find it more disturbing that we tend to get strong-armed into believing that they’re right. America is hurting, Mitt Romney tells us, therefore we shouldn’t be pouring millions of dollars into a puppet show. And people believe him because, with everything going on in all of our lives right now, they can’t bring themselves to tell him he’s wrong.
I find it highly unlikely that a Mitt Romney administration will actually be able to de-fund PBS or other endeavors that generally live in fear like the National Endowment for the Arts.3 It’s more likely that this rehearsed “zinger” is a feint intended to keep us abuzz with talk of how slick and collected the Republican contender looked and hope we don’t notice some of his more gross misstatements from the evening. Still, it’s indicative of the kind of cynicism we can look forward to if Romney is elected.
It’s true that the economy is weak. Many of us are out of work or underpaid. Benefits that we once enjoyed have shriveled up. States are barely getting by. There’s growing unrest in the Middle East and we still can’t get out of Afghanistan, troubles we all have to foot the bill for. But I’ll be damned if I let that get it the way of my support for publicly financed television. We have already given up so much; must we give up on Big Bird too?
A response to the question, “how you would go about tackling the deficit problem?”↩
Another memorable moment came when a grinning Romney said of the longwindedness of the debate process, “It’s fun, isn’t it?”↩
Even Ronald Reagan came around and found some value in the National Endowment for the Arts.↩