How the 'fire Big Bird' meme could actually hurt Mitt Romney

The Week's Editorial Staff
The Week

Yes, the consensus is that Romney won the debate. But what if all anyone remembers from that night is that he declared war on Sesame Street?

Defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has long been a cause célèbre for many Republicans, so GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney probably felt safe using it as his specific sole example of what he'd do to solve America's fiscal problems. But his decision to declare his "love" for Big Bird even as he promised to put the yellow Sesame Street icon's job in jeopardy was a bridge too far for, well, "practically every American under the age of 50," says Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. Twitter was certainly having none of it, with parody Big Bird accounts popping up to excoriate Romney's heartlessness, and even President Obama managed to work a line into his stump speech about how Romney would "get rid of regulations on Wall Street — but he's going to crack down on Sesame Street." Williams argues that this will actually hurt Romney:

It's one thing to try to go all folksy, man of the people, we won't make poor struggling Americans pay for your highfalutin Der Ring des Nibelungen marathons and your Frontline documentaries about homosexual artists, and it is quite another entirely to go after Big Bird. You. Do. Not. Screw. With. Big. Bird.... An entire generation can trace its first understanding of death to the moment that Big Bird let it sink in that "Mr. Hooper's not coming back." And another generation learned about loss and community and resilience after 9/11 when Sesame Street had Big Bird's own nest destroyed in a storm....

Despite coming out of the evening looking stronger than he has in weeks — Romney made the error of looking like a man who is not on the side of innocence, whimsy, learning or childhood.... Going after Big Bird is like putting down baseball and rainbows and YouTube videos of otter pups. You just don't.

Not seeing the merit of points as those Williams puts forth, Romney's erstwhile GOP primary rival Rick Santorum lept to his defense, sort of. He at least felt Romney's pain. "I've voted to kill Big Bird in the past," Santorum told CNN on Thursday night. "That doesn't mean I don't like Big Bird. I mean, you can kill things and still like them, maybe to eat them, I don't know."

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Here's why bringing up Big Bird hurt Romney, says Tim Malloy at The Wrap: With Obama "as much a presence as the Sesame Street avian's elusive friend, Snuffleupagus," Romney clearly won the debate, but that's only one of three big takeaways that undecided voters will remember about Romney's great triumph. The other two? "Obama had an anniversary," and, of course, "Romney wants to cut funding for PBS, including Big Bird." 

It's worse than that for Romney, says Deborah White at The debate was boring to the point of distraction, and while people care in the abstract about budget deficits, "pop culture matters, especially pop culture as deeply beloved as Sesame Street." The bottom line is that "the only issue of lasting voter resonance from [the] debate will be Big Bird," and the only thing "under-40 undecideds and those not plugged into politics" will take away from Obama's bad night is that "Mitt Romney cares so little about the 47 percent, he even wants to take Sesame Street away from our children!"

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Forget all the cultural mumbo jumbo, says Loren Steffy at the Houston Chronicle. The real problem with Romney's spasm of "Big Bird Syndrome" is that he's talking about fiscal "chicken feed." He looks unserious. Now, "Obama had his own bout of Big Birdism" — tackling Medicare fraud is nice, but hardly a deficit-slayer — but PBS gets $444 million a year. Throw in Amtrak and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and you get $2 billion. Against a $1.1 trillion deficit, that's "like throwing a few grains of sand over the rim of Grand Canyon and saying you're fighting erosion." Right, says Dean Obeidallah at CNN. "Even a Muppet would call this fuzzy math."

One protester shows disdain for Romney's threat against PBS:

Big Bird Protest
Big Bird Protest

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