He's big, he's yellow, and despite his age, he's still quite popular.
He's Big Bird, and if Mitt Romney gets his way, his neighborhood on Sesame Street is about to be gentrified. Instead of subsidized housing, it's going to be free market rates. Conservatives think that's a good thing.
But is it?
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
America's venerable Public Broadcasting Corporation has been in the crosshairs before by right-wingers looking to make a public spectacle out of slashing our government's budget. Stop funding PBS, the mantra has gone, and look at how much of our debt will disappear! If the liberal-leaning PBS can't survive on its own, it isn't as good as its boosters claim it is anyway.
Such bluster plays well to the portion of America's populace that likes to politicize things at the expense of their own morality. Think about it: PBS doesn't feature cuss words or sexually suggestive programming during prime time, but plenty of public television's conservative naysayers enjoy their Desperate Housewives, Office, Modern Family, Glee, and Married With Children episodes in all of their raunchy glory on the commercial networks.
Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS claim that they need to air such morally vapid shows because they couldn't survive financially if they didn't. But what makes conservatives think PBS couldn't survive on its own? And if it could, would they be happier if PBS began featuring as much skin and perversion as the regular networks? Sure, it's great PR for talk radio's blowhards and right wing political wonks to spin a story of waste when it comes to public broadcasting, but when you compare the level of programming on PBS to the lowest common denominator of perversity elsewhere on the TV dial, aren't we taxpayers getting a pretty good return on our investment?
Do you realize we're subsidizing PBS at $222.5 million per year? The horror! 75% of that money goes to PBS on TV, and 25% to PBS on the radio (think NPR). Granted, that's a lot of money, except when compared to our federal budget, which is $3.8 trillion. PBS costs each of us Americans about $1.35 per year in taxes - a heavy burden that Romney claims isn't worth all of the education, art, science, and community programming that PBS broadcasts 24/7.
Brought To You Today By the Letters P, O, L, I, T, I, C, S
One of the consistent reasons conservatives like to hold PBS as a prime example of what's wrong with our federal budget stems from the common complaint that public broadcasting has a liberal bias. And yes, when it does show a bias, it's hardly towards the right of anything. For example, it's hard to deny that their science shows pretend the theory of Evolution is irrefutable fact. Many conservatives also bristle at the urban legends about Bert and Ernie being gay lovers, which they're not, or the network's other childhood shows pushing a socialist agenda on our impressionable children - a claim conservative parents make with a straight face, while letting their kids consume all sorts of hedonistic carnality on other channels. And while it's true that PBS's venerable talk show hosts Charlie Rose, who always tries to outdo his sophisticated guests in pomposity, and Bill Moyers, with his pious religious fuzziness, tend to advance blatantly liberal biases in their shows, theirs still doesn't sink to the vitriolic rhetoric of right-wing radio's partisan stars that conservatives consume for free.
If conservatives really want to see unabashed liberal propaganda on PBS, however, just go ahead and pull its taxpayer subsidies, and watch what happens. With its undisputed reputation as a bastion of creative programming, PBS will undoubtedly have no problem wooing left-wing sponsors and limousine liberals to swoop in as angel investors and replace that public funding. And then who'll be in complete control of one of the most ubiquitous childrens learning channels on the planet?
Right now, with PBS receiving public subsidies, the American people can complain to their elected officials whenever they perceive it to be crossing some ideological line. The political curse conservatives consider PBS to be is actually an effective way they can hold public broadcasting's feet to the fire of bipartisan equity. $222 million per year is just enough money to make PBS executives take conservatives seriously when it comes to questionable programming content. If the George Soros'es, Bill Gates'es, Al Gore's and Oprah Winfrey's of America get to replace taxpayers and underwrite PBS unilaterally, what voice will conservatives have when it comes to what PBS puts on the air?
Isn't having that voice worth $1.35 per year to you?
Not that PBS is just itching to dive into the deep end of liberal bias. If their directors really wanted to abdicate any semblance of moderate neutrality, instead of running panicked pledge drives, they'd be lobbying Congress for going solo. Right-wingers may feel threatened by folks at PBS who share different viewpoints, but compared with what could happen if it went completely private, the money we spend to help keep it "public" isn't the real threat here.
The real threat is the unknown: who takes over the money wagon at PBS if Romney pulls the plug on taxpayer subsidies? Right now, Romney and everybody else who thinks "firing Big Bird" is a good idea need to be grateful that PBS is content to fight for its relatively paltry quarter-billion dollars every year.
Yes, yes, yes, that's a lot of money! But to put it in context, this past winter, NBC grossed $245 million just in advertisements during the Super Bowl. And you still don't think we're getting our money's worth out of PBS?
There is value in us helping to pay Big Bird's rent. Especially since we might not be able to afford the alternative.