EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 11, 2012

Editorial: It's time for Big Bird to support himself

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — America’s yellowest welfare leech turned up in Derry Monday to protest Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s suggestion that maybe it’s time for him to get a job.

Yes, Big Bird, who has been hanging around on Sesame Street and collecting a government check for 43 years now, turned up carrying a protest sign at a Romney campaign event in Derry. This was not the “real” Big Bird, however, merely an Obama supporter in a rented suit.

Reeling from his drubbing in the first presidential debate, Obama is grasping at straws. Unable to defend his administration’s performance on matters foreign and domestic, the campaign has seized on a stray remark Romney made about government subsidies for the Public Broadcasting Service.

“I love Big Bird ... but I’m not going to keep on spending money on things [we need] to borrow money from China to pay for,” Romney said.

Democrats howled when Romney characterized Obama as the candidate of the dependent class. But Obama has now tied his political fortunes to an icon of dependency, one that generates tens of millions in product revenues, all while insisting that the government checks must never stop.

So when Romney suggested in last week’s debate that maybe the country can no longer afford to borrow from China to hand Big Bird and his friends at PBS a subsidy, the overgrown chicken’s pals in the Democratic Party went nuts.

To the Democrats, Big Bird is the most sacred of sacred cows. The Obama camp has produced an ad that claims Romney wants to take on Sesame Street while ignoring Wall Street’s crimes.

PBS was established to provide an alternative to commercial television. This was, of course, back in the day when television consisted of a handful of stations — fewer in rural areas — operated by three or four national networks. Now, there are hundreds of channels offering varying degrees of cultural sophistication.

Children’s programming on PBS, such as “Sesame Street,” supposedly is vital to little tykes’ learning prospects — although the 40-plus years of “Sesame Street” seem to match up fairly well with the history of plunging student performance. No matter. Correlation is not causation — at least, not always.

“Sesame Street,” by the way, is not produced by PBS. It is the product of the Sesame Workshop, an independent, nonprofit organization. The Sesame Workshop receives about $8 million a year in direct government payments and indirect subsidies from PBS, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2011, its operating revenue topped $134 million.

“Sesame Street” also earned $211 million from 2003 to 2006 in toy and product licensing.

The total government subsidy to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes funds to PBS stations, was $420 million in 2010.

Romney’s point in the debate was that, at a time when the federal government is losing trillions, “Sesame Street” can afford to pay its own way.

The Obama administration, Democrats in general and “Sesame Street” supporters specifically are missing the broader point. We like “Sesame Street.” We’d rather have it than not. But we can’t keep handing taxpayer money to a program that clearly can support itself.

The federal government is broke. It’s spending $1 trillion more a year than it takes in. If a family spends more than it earns, it has to cut its expenses or the next stop is bankruptcy court.

Obama is right that the subsidy to “Sesame Street” is small potatoes. Even the whole $420 million to CPB isn’t much.

But if we are unable to muster the political courage to make even this small cut, we’re sunk.

It’s time for Big Bird to grow up and support himself.