Political Animal


October 06, 2012 12:40 PM Romney’s Bay State Love Affair with PBS

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

It’s old news by now that Mitt Romney wants to fire Big Bird (and Rick Santorum wants to eat him, apparently) by cutting federal subsidies to PBS, where Sesame Street is broadcast. Romney’s remark should be tempered, no surprise, with some context on his own history with public broadcasting subsidies. Today’s Boston Globe brings news that in 2005 Romney signed a bill ushering in tax breaks for in-state film producers, which has indirectly provided a windfall for the state’s public broadcasters.

Boston public television giant WGBH received $4.2 million from the state’s film tax credit program last year alone for programs like “American Experience,” “Antiques Roadshow,” and “Nova.” And Watertown animation studio Soup2Nuts received about $300,000 in subsidies last year, mostly for the PBS series WordGirl.

Romney’s Big Bird assault, as Charlie Pierce has surmised, might end up being the only aspect of the debate we all remember a few weeks from now. It also might also make for Priorities USA Action fodder. The PBS subsidy, which makes up .012% of the federal budget, remains broadly popular, despite regular Republican efforts to eliminate it: According to a 2011 poll, 69% of voters oppose proposals to cut its funds. (Though not a perfect comparison, it’s worth noting that the average Brit pays $60 yearly for BBC television service; the average American pays $1.35* for PBS.) Though PBS and NPR bashing is standard GOP red meat (their opposition derives not so much from the actual funding, but their perception that public broadcasting bears a liberal bias) Romney’s latest flip-flop is actually more in line with the newfound moderation he test-drove in Denver.

Rather than double down of his running mate’s “marvelous” austerity budget, or tout the savings that might arise out of turning Medicare into a semi-voucherized program, as he proposes to do, Romney has tried to target the ostensibly silly stuff on which we’re spending taxpayer dollars. In other words, he’s highlighting the government’s frivolity, not its profligacy. And in doing so, he may avoid scaring off the moderate independents he’s courting. Ironically, the approach bears similarity to Obama’s own public avowals to cut spending, which often single out redundant or ridiculous-sounding federal programs that barely make a dent in the budget.

*Corrected from household to individual.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • c u n d gulag on October 06, 2012 12:59 PM:

    Possible movements:



    We can make a movie about it: "The Muppets Take-on Mittens."

    Too bad Big Bird only has 4 fingers, or he could flip Mitt the middle one.

    Instead, since he doesn’t even wear any pants, maybe Big Bird can just grab his egg-maker, shake it at him, and yell, ‘Hey Mitt – SUCK ON THIS!”
    (Or does Tom Friedman get residuals whenever someone does that?).

    Poor Mitt, he forgot he was in a national debate, and not a Republican primary one; and that he was talking to a national audience, not a band of addle-brained Teabagging twits!

    And months from now, all anyone's gonna remember, is that while it was Obama who took out Osama, it was Big Bird who Mitt wanted in HIS cross-hairs.

  • PaulAdmirer on October 06, 2012 1:02 PM:

    False equivalency fail: the LA Times story you link does not show Obama talking about cutting small programs. There Obama was talking about streamlining the bureaucracy to make government more efficient, not to reduce the deficit. In fact, Obama talks about cutting billions in subsidies to big oil, about raising taxes on everyone who make over $250,000 etc.; Romney talks about Big Bird.

  • Bo on October 06, 2012 1:07 PM:

    The MittWit is just doing what he does best -- offering up sales propositions all fancied up to look like policy prescriptions and grand, bold ideas.
    He has no understanding of longer-term consequences or unintended impact of his silly little propositions. That's not the point. His entire focus is on "closing the deal", not addressing core issues or dealing with structural budget or economic problems.
    In this sense, he is a carbon-copy (albeit more polished version) of GDumbya. All hat and no cattle. This guy couldn't organize a two-car funeral but he would up-sell the survivors on a top-of-the-line casket in a New York minute.

  • N.Wells on October 06, 2012 1:16 PM:

    Republicans are against NPR and PBS because they fear that reality has a liberal bias, and because public broadcasting types used to be less willing to report standard Republican hype without noting that it was unfounded rubbish. I used to consider that much of apparent Republican dementia such as their insane conspiracy theories about voter fraud, hidden liberal agendas, welfare queens, and the like was similarly a matter of political expediency: working the referees, cowering the opposition, and providing justification for pro-Republican legislation. However, it occurs to me belatedly that there may be an even simpler explanation for their recently boundless love of such whacked-out theories as pollsters generating anti-Romney poll results and the Bureau of Labor Statistics simply making up convenient unemployment numbers. I'm thinking that it's because they have collectively and completely moved into a world of Making Stuff Up. When reality isn't convenient, their side simply makes stuff up: Republican-created deficits and disasters don't matter (until a Democrat inherits them), Iraq's 'weapons of mass distraction', climate change denial, evolution denial, trickle-down economics, Rasmussen polling, Fox "news" coverage, "death panels", almost any of Romney & Ryan's campaign claims, etc., etc., etc. Cognitive dissonance training begins with their religion, but they've just been doing it so broadly and for so long now that it has become their presumption of what people naturally do. "Of course Democrats must be doing it", because it is no more and no less than what they would do, given half a chance. Projection and dishonesty / detachment from reality have made a truly toxic brew.

  • RepubAnon on October 06, 2012 4:30 PM:

    If Mitt's war on the Muppets succeeds, who will the big Wall Street brokers offload their bad investments upon? There won't be any Muppets for them to rip the eyeballs off...

  • exlibra on October 06, 2012 5:35 PM:

    Went by our Walmart this afternoon (having spent the morning canvassing for Obama) and it's bad news all around. No Kermit (Mitt's appetizer?) and no Big Bird (main course?). No Grouch (we don't like them bitching?). No Oscar (we don't want the homeless who are living in a trash can?). But several Elmos (laughing their butts off), a couple of Ernies and a single Cookie Monster (he ain't gonna last, either; once he's eaten his last cookie, he's a goner, like the rest of them). Mitt may have said that razing Sesame Street is his plan for the future, but, to me, it looked like the demolition has already started.

    Craptcha says it "saw palacel". Another Romney's house in place of Sesame Street? I wondered.

  • Altoid on October 06, 2012 6:12 PM:

    Gotta be a symbolic target, 'cause 0.012% means that out of every $10,000 the federal government spends, PBS is $1.20.

    Deficit? Anybody who's talking less than $100 billion at a time is jerking us around. Nothing less is even worth thinking about. That's per year, not per decade.

  • DJ on October 06, 2012 6:23 PM:

    In other words, he’s highlighting the government’s frivolity, not its profligacy.

    You honestly think that PBS, home of Sesame Street, Downton Abbey, Nova, The NewsHour, etc. is frivolous??? Equivalency Fail doesn't begin to describe such idiocy.

  • Doug on October 06, 2012 6:50 PM:

    "In other words, he's highlighting the government's frivolity, not its profligacy. And in doing so, he may avoid scaring off the moderate indepedents he's courting." Simon Zuylen-Wood

    THIS passes for logic?
    After having previously noted that 69% of the population wants to retain funding of PBS, the claim is that Romney's trying to woo "moderate idependent" voters by guillotining Big Bird?
    After subtracting the 69% of the population that wishes to maintain PBS, AND Big Bird, what are we left with - 31%. What's the percentage usually assigned to the Republican "base" again?
    It's on the tip of my tongue...

  • Bokonon on October 06, 2012 9:46 PM:

    But ... but ... the Chinese!

    Mitt Romney loves him some Big Bird, but we are borrowing money from the Chinese, so Big Bird just has to die! No choice in the matter. Forcing our hand.

    You can tell Romney is being truthful, because of the tight smirk on his face and the glint in his eye when he said this.

  • phein39 on October 06, 2012 9:51 PM:

    Not sure I can agree with your math there, Simon.

    The PBS subsidy is @ $445M/year. There are approximately 90 million households; there are @ 310 million individuals. On a per household basis, we're talking close to five dollars per year per household in the US, not $1.35.

  • Auto detail on October 07, 2012 12:19 AM:

    The lasting impression from the debate ends up being protests from adults who grew up on Sesame Street-- tweeting don't kill Big Bird, save Sesame Street. This is what is taken from the debate, due to Romney, who talks out of his @$$...and seems relentlessly ridiculous.
    We don't need another anti-education president.
    We already had an unelected anti-education president in the 2000's.
    Can't wait for the next debate for the president to shine.