Big Bird, just another corporate welfare queen
Apologizing for his disastrous performance in his first head-to-head debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama told a Hollywood fundraiser that the celebrities present “just perform flawlessly night after night. I can’t always say the same.” On his equally disastrous performance in office, the president admitted, “I goofed up.” But Romney, he joked, “is finally getting tough on Big Bird. … Rounding him up. Elmo has got to watch out, too.”
Liberals in the media have tried to help the president out by amplifying this joke into a serious charge, raising the ante from rounding up Big Bird to killing him. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien said, “my son was devastated when he heard that Big Bird might be killed.”
As Sherrie Westin, vice president of Sesame Workshop — which owns Sesame Street — had just explained to O’Brien, “The Sesame Workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS. So we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship.
“So quite frankly, you know, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of Public Broadcasting but when they always sort of tout out Big Bird and say we’re going to kill Big Bird; that actually is misleading because ‘Sesame Street’ will be here.”
In fact, Romney never threatened to kill or even round up Big Bird. Pressed by Obama and moderator Jim Lehrer to identify federal spending he would cut, Romney repeated what he has been saying for a year: “I will eliminate all programs by this test: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. Obamacare’s on my list.”
Gently reminding the audience that, as a PBS employee, Lehrer was hardly a disinterested party, Romney said, “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things.” He added, “I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”
As even the Huffington Post admits, ending taxpayer subsidies won’t kill Big Bird. HuffPo cites the manufacturer (outsourced to China) of Big Bird’s costumes to the effect that, “even if Romney kills PBS, Big Bird will survive … ‘It’s a business, and a lucrative one.’”
That’s an understatement. Sesame Workshop made $46.9 million last year from licensing Big Bird and other Sesame Street characters on an astonishing variety of merchandise, from diapers to backpacks, from clothing to toys, from decor to accessories. HuffPo cites an analyst who estimates that Hasbro’s Fisher-Price division generates $70 to $75 million a year in revenue from “Sesame Street” toys alone.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS (and NPR), reports its federal appropriations for 2013 as $445 million – up about 37 percent from $325 million in 2000. This corporate welfare for CPB may have been an indulgence we could afford in 2000, when the federal budget was running an $86 billion surplus. Today, with a deficit in excess of $1.3 trillion, it’s a luxury, and we must cut back. It’s a small cut, perhaps equivalent in a family budget to forgoing a single latte at Starbucks. But small cuts add up, and if we can’t cut corporate welfare, we can’t cut anything.
The polls suggest that Romney’s plan to cut off corporate welfare for CPB may not have hurt him with voters. Gallup’s pre-debate poll had Obama leading by 5 points; post-debate, it shows a dead heat. Before the debate, Pew Research had Obama up by 8 points among likely voters; after, it has Romney leading by 4 – a 12-point swing for Romney.