(For those who didn't watch, Republican Romney proclaimed "I love Big Bird" while promising to pull the public-TV funding plug on Big Bird and friends.)
Frankly, given the performances by both Gov. Romney and President Obama, the post-debate Big Bird humor was, indeed, the highlight of the evening. Big Bird references were tweeted at an astonishing rate of 17,000 per minute and PBS at 10,000 tweets per minute, causing the debate to be the most tweeted U.S. political event. Ever.
This theatrical duel of wit-free words likely changed few minds, other than undecided white men. (Are there any left?) Mitt Romney was all anxious white alpha-male, reminiscent of when Al Gore took on George W. Bush in 2000: a controlling, interrupting, condescending, fact-spouting know-it-all, replete with weird, plastic smile.
One huge difference, though, between Mitt Romney in 2012 and Al Gore in 2000: Romney lied and grotesquely stretched shreds of truth. Over and over and over again. And Gov. Romney changed stances on nearly all political issues mentioned from his stated views on the campaign stump. Last night's Mitt Romney would never have won the Republican party presidential nod in 2012.
President Obama, though, persuaded no one to jump the Romney yacht for his ship. Seemingly smoldering with presidential resentment at Romney's verbal prods and pokes, Obama glared at his podium when not speaking in muted, professorial tones through gritted teeth.
To be fair to President Obama, remember that he was a mediocre debater (at best) in 2008. And as in 2008, Obama obviously continues to feel compelled to avoid the "Angry Black Man" image at all costs.
The Economist once described President Obama as retreating into a fair imitation of a Vulcan, odd Star Trek extraterrestrials "noted for their attempt to live by reason and logic with no interference from emotion." We saw Obama-Vulcan on the debate stage in Denver last night. And he likely neither hurt nor helped his 2012 presidential campaign. He was just odd.
"I value Big Bird more than a big military. Which means I value children learning about cultural diversity more than children training for war. Period. End of story. If it comes down to cutting a program to serve what America should be, I'd say cut the war budget and invest in our children."
Pop culture matters, especially pop culture as deeply beloved as Sesame Street, a program that's spanned 43 seasons and is broadcast in more than 140 countries. That Mitt Romney wants to cut funding for Sesame Street, perhaps the most successful kids' TV program in world history, is the one debate takeaway that will be remembered by the very voters that Republicans desperately desire to reach: under-40 undecideds and those not plugged into politics.
The Twitter jokes about Big Bird, although absolutely hilarious (see below), also carry a serious cultural message that could prove lethal for Mr. Romney and the kill-joy Republicans who mainly advocate for more tax breaks for America's 1% wealthiest citizens: Mitt Romney cares so little about the 47%, he even wants to take Sesame Street away from our children!
I fully understand why last night's presidential debate was the most tweeted political event in U.S. history: Big Bird matters. And last night, Mitt Romney said he plans to terminate Big Bird.
- A Sampling of "Big Bird" Tweets from October 3, 2012
- Romney: Soft on Wall Street, Hard on Sesame Street
- Big Bird: Enemy of the American People
- Occupy Sesame Street
- Romney to Outsource Big Bird to India
- Wait until Romney Hears about Bert and Ernie!
- Big Bird Sandwiches Now Served at Chik-Fil-a
- No More Government Dependency for Big Bird
- "I love Big Bird. He is the right height."
- "We need to see Big Bird's long-form birth certificate. Was he really born on Sesame Street?"
- Join the Save Big Bird Campaign
- RIP Big Bird, a Victim of Mitt Romney and Republican policies.