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Big Bird Matters: Obama Vulcan vs Romney Alpha-Man Debate

By October 4, 2012

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Call last night's political debacle in Denver the "Big Bird Debate," because the top trending Twitter terms for hours afterward were neither Romney nor Obama, but were PBS and Big Bird, Sesame Street's beloved, eight-foot yellow-feathered bird. And for very good reason.

(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.

Bottom line: The only issue of lasting voter resonance from last night's duel debate will be Big Bird. As my friend Kim Ruehl (About.com Guide to Folk Music) smartly stated at Facebook:

"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.


October 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm
(1) PowerOfChoice says:

We are reaching a point in our country where we need to start making hard choices; therefore, do we borrow money from China to feed human beings or fictional characters. At 16+ Trillion dollars in debt unlike our Legislators who cannot make a decision and pass legislation at least you saw someone who was willing to tell the truth. PBS has had a long time to learn to be self sufficient. If the people want to keep feeding Big Bird they can exercise their Freedom of Choice to donate themselves to PBS while others can in turn exercise their own Freedom of Choice to donate and feed hungry children.

We have a lot more citizens on Unemployment and Food Stamps than ever before which is raising our debt. To continue these we need to start looking at where we can get money to help support. Everyone needs to start choosing do we help citizens put roofs over their heads and food on the table, or do we spend tax dollars on items which citizens can Survive without. Sorry you cannot eat a fictional character.

October 4, 2012 at 2:20 pm
(2) chas holman says:

For what it is worth, the US borrows less than 9% of it’s foreign credit from the Chinese markets.. we diversify our ‘borrowing’.

China isn’t fundind PBS (which is just a few million dollars Federal funds), you the tax payer are. And it costs you less than a nickle a year.

I watched the very first Seseme Street ever (I remember when it said ‘number 1′ “I wonder how long this will last”) in the late 60′s. My ids watched Sesame Street.. my grandkids watch Sesame Street (to this day.. daily).

There are some things worth paying a nickle a year.. heck, me myself, I pony up several times over the years and toss PBS a few bucks extra.. it’s the only channel on non cable that isn’t total crud.

October 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm
(3) Bob says:

How much is the Birg Bird franchise worth? Are all of the toys, stuffed animals, games, videos including Big Bird not generating money for PBS? It is a extremely valuable asset that should be able to not only stand on its own but also serve to support PBS.

October 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm
(4) CZA says:

It is hard to believe that Romney would be so SMUG as to say in one breath he is for education and then in the next breath tell everyone watching that he would pull the plug on PBS.
. It is important to me.This is our public classroom and is important to many who believe in the middle class and the poor who look forward to all that PBS brings to the public.

Romney says he is for the middle class, the poor but then in another stunning statement shows his true colors. What does it take to see that this man does not know what it means to have these important programs. Romeny seems so concerned with protecting the rich and the oil companies in keeping their wealth than to help Public Broadcasting. It appears obvious to me you have to look at the gaffs and the words spoken to tell you more about the person than just looking good and being a bully!

October 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm
(5) A. Adams says:

GIVE IT UP DEBORAH! Barrack Obama has taken George Bush’s bad economy and made it A LOT worse. Deficit numbers and unemployment lines DON’T lie! High taxes/big spending/draconian regulation is a proven loser. That’s why you’re sniping in your article. Nov 6th your dream of utopia funded by those who pay too much in taxes is over. – Who is Jon Galt.

October 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm
(6) Working Mom says:

I find it amazing how people can say things like “it’s just a few million dollars”. I also don’t understand how supposedly “poor” people eat at McDonald’s from the value menu. I work hard and have 2 kids and struggle as a middle class citizen. Value meals from Mc Donald’s is a rare treat! It really angers me when I read about people wanting to take other peole’s money to fund what they want! If you want something, pay for it yourself! Don’t the to take other people’s money to fund your consumption. Roads and military protection we NEED! Big Bird and free loaders we do NOT! There’s something wrong with you if you need television to educate your kids. Perhaps, instead of leaving kids in front of the TV, parents should spend time and teach them themselves!

Btw, communism was founded on socialist ideals and failed! Learn from the past! America’s Democratic Capitalistic ideals are special and that success was founded on competition and drive to succeed NOT having people take things from you; that’s what the English King was good at… taking other people’s money.

October 5, 2012 at 5:45 am
(7) Robert Longley says:

My problem with “The Debates” in general is that they are so short and structured that we tend to judge the candidates based on how they “seem.” Which is okay, IF how they seem is really how they “are.” We watch a 90-minute debate and come away knowing little, if anything more about the details of either candidates’ economic plans, foreign policy, etc., but we say, “He certainly seemed more self-assured.” Well, so did Hitler.

October 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm
(8) CJinMadison says:

Uh, boy are you wrong, Ms. White. Maybe to you, and your liberal friends, “The only issue of lasting voter resonance from last night’s… debate will be Big Bird.” But, to a good many citizen-voters (most of whom have never read your articles… I only stumbled upon your page because I was looking for some actual assessment of Big Bird’s net franchise value)… to many of us, that debate was spectacular!

You mock Romney for being all “controlling” and “fact-spouting”… uh, as opposed to President Obama who apparently doesn’t take his job seriously enough to formulate the simplest of cogent thoughts to defend and explain his own policies, and explain to the American people why we are (for example) giving $90BILLION (!) to green-energy “investments”, (many of which have gone belly-up) while cursing and demonizing the $2B that is handed out for actual productive companies that are contributing to our national economy.

Sorry. That debate was legitimate. And, I trust many people saw Romney for the first time as he really is: a sincere, dedicated, highly-qualified executive who knows the facts, and knows what it takes to run an organization, and make hard decisions. (Sorry the “plastic smile” irks you. I don’t vote for the smile.)

As for Big Bird… I am increasingly convinced — after reading so much pseudo-intellectual commentary from folks like you — that Big Bird is a perfect mascot for the Left: a simple-minded creature in a perpetual state of infancy.

Big Bird is a massive industry, all to himself. He could probably single-handedly finance PBS all on his own capable, cute, cuddly persona. So, why not leave the nest? Why can’t we tax-payers be credited with a great idea, that hatched, and matured, and took to its own wings and began life without dependency on eternal public support? It is possible.

October 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm
(9) usliberals says:

CJinMadison writes: “Big Bird is a massive industry, all to himself. He could probably single-handedly finance PBS all on his own capable, cute, cuddly persona. So, why not leave the nest? Why canít we tax-payers be credited with a great idea, that hatched, and matured, and took to its own wings and began life without dependency on eternal public support? It is possible.”

You and many others here make a terrific point about Big Bird’s sales and profitability as an important source of public TV support.

October 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm
(10) Jking says:

Two crucial points I would like to make in our present situation that to me are not well considered here…one I’m all for educating children in favor of funding war, just the same as I would rather not protect my business, home, etc with countless of thousands of dollars on alarm systems, video surveillance, etc etc to avoid thievery. We are faced with an evil over seas that would really like to wipe our very existence from the face of the earth and a well funded strong military is our only option that keeps that from happening. It is a necessity to our existence where as PBS ABSOLUTLY is not, it’s a luxury.

Second a luxury is something you have when you can afford to have it. If the house, food, power, transportation, and rainy day fund cost an individual $100,000 annually, the house hold income is $100,000 annually then the 30′ sport fishing boat that’s going to add $15,000 to the annual expense it’s simply not going to happen.. America financially is in the same situation. We simply can not afford the extras we are paying for. We must protect our necessaties and for now at least loose the luxuries or we WILL cease to exist as a solid nation

October 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm
(11) robert_13 says:

Why don’t those of you who are so busy resenting people on welfare worry about how much interest banks make on your money versus how much of that you get? Why don’t you worry about all kinds of other rip-offs that make you unwitting and witless victims of legal fraud because these con artists own their political proxies in D.C. who they sucker you into voting for?

What gets spent on welfare and other such programs takes from you NOTHING TO COMPARE with how much these con artists continually sucker you for and you remain totally clueless. Unfortunately, the rest of us also have to pay for your apparently unlimited suckerhood. What I’m saying here is available to anyone who wants to do even a little objective research. Instead, you listen only to those who make you feel right by telling you what you already want to think. If you even happen anything that contradicts what you want to think, you label those ideas leftist or liberal and automatically dismiss them on this basis instead of judging them objectively on the basis facts and intelligent logic.

Most of you don’t have a truly practical clue about how to vet information or use reliable reasoning processes. It doesn’t even matter to you that you don’t. You just want to be comfortable with your ridiculous “conclusions” Of course, they’re not even really conclusions, but just parroting the people who appeal to your narrow little mentality, fears, prejudices, and your need to feel right and part of a powerful clan of like minded suckers for bad information.

You don’t judge information on the basis of information and valid reasoning, but on how much it appeals to your emotional needs. Too bad for everybody! You allow powerful financial interests to continue undermining our democracy, and believe me, they’ve done just that while you vote for them thinking they’re going to help you get it back! Don’t hold your breath!

October 10, 2012 at 3:35 am
(12) BoraMac says:

Big Bird is top 2%…top 0.2%. Remember fair share? Why does $300m a year franchising property need a few million in government subsidy!

Soak it to all the RICH BIrds…get consistent people!

October 10, 2012 at 7:54 pm
(13) milmac says:

Big Bird got over $1 million of stimulus funds and created less than 2 jobs (in fact only 1.47). I don’t think taxpayers want their money spent to stimulate Sesame Street and biased PBS. Sorry, Big Bird, start paying your own way.

October 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm
(14) Sue says:

I haven’t laughed this much since the debates started. Great article Deborah! That’s pretty much all I have to say. Keep up the good work. You are an intellectual genius … with humor.

November 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm
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