A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Exploiting the Bird

Mitt Romney’s mentioning Big Bird at the first debate last week had repercussions far beyond his intended (and bungled message) of prioritizing federal spending. It sent the CEO of PBS into apoplexy. It gave Barack Obama a few talking points on the campaign trail last weekend, which he didn’t really need to do. He could have just as well said, “Hey, how about those job numbers on Friday?”

Yet Obama, like the late night talk show hosts, couldn’t resist doing tongue-in-cheek references to the most recognizable symbol of American public broadcasting. The campaign doubled down on the sarcasm potential of the issue by producing and broadcasting an Obama campaign ad noting Romney’s support of Wall Street (with its attendant darker elements personified by the likes of Bernie Madoff) and his disavowal of Sesame Street. Yes, I could appreciate the sarcastic touch of humor in the spot, but I also got the uncomfortable feeling that the whole production bordered on silly.

The backlash spilled over into this week. There was another bout of apoplexy from PBS, accompanied with a strong rebuke to both campaigns to leave Big Bird (an apolitical animal, as it turns out) alone. They reiterated that their fluffy mascot was not to be used to further any candidate’s political aspirations.   

Furthermore, they requested that the Obama campaign withdraw the ad. Last reports stated that the Obama people were reviewing this request.

The Sesame Street production company does have a point; Big Bird should not show a political preference to anyone. However, there is no denying the fact that he is a symbol of education. So, with apologies to PBS (take a sedative, people) let’s bring the big yellow one out for one more round of exploitation. The idea that Romney would cut funding for PBS seems to be in line with the overall GOP attitude towards education.

Consider these ideas: a Romney-Ryan administration would slash Pell Grants, which affords thousands of young Americans the opportunity to attend college year after year. Couple this with Romney’s earlier statement that children should borrow money from their parents to attend institutions of higher learning. This is just at the federal level. 

The same attitudes are replicated at the state level. Governor Corbett’s kowtowing to Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge is slashing many programs, including education in the state of Pennsylvania. Thousands of Pennsylvania residents may be denied the chance to attend college and, by extension, the opportunities that a higher degree can bring when they enter the job market. On the other hand, as one social advocacy group has noted, Corbett is going ahead with projects to expand Pennsylvania prisons at a time when the need for more prison space is not evident. It is as if he is acknowledging where the people denied educational opportunities will likely end up, so we might as well prepare ourselves with more prison beds now than wait until later.

So, all these things considered on the subject of education (in my decidedly liberal judgment), the GOP seems to be against it.

An analysis by the national reform organization Education Trust showed that Paul Ryan’s budget would slash $170 billion from Pell Grants over the next 10 years. The result, according to The Huffington Post article published in March, would affect more than one million young, poor students' ability to attend college. Is there any reason to believe that a Romney administration will not endorse this idea put forth by his chosen running mate?

Romney’s suggestion that young people should borrow the cost of college from their parents is a classic example of easier said than done. Several generations of Americans have depended on financial aid in the form of loans, work study grants, and scholarships for education opportunities beyond high school. Indeed, the completion and submission of grant applications has become a rite of passage for many American parents during the last 40 years. I dare say that the last American parent who could afford to loan his progeny money for school went by the name of Romney, as in George Romney.

In this respect, we can easily see why Big Bird has been picked on by both sides in the last week. He is a symbol, not so much of higher education, but a symbol of education that begins at an early age. He lays a foundation that takes root in the psyche of young Americans, and is in turn built upon in the public and private education systems of our country. The knowledge gained in these venues - whether televised or live in a classroom with a flesh and blood human teacher - affords all of us the opportunity to become productive and prosperous.  

The current conservative attitudes towards education at the federal and state levels pose a serious threat to our future capability of challenging the global economy and regaining our footing in the international job markets. We won’t be able to take back the jobs we lost to China and India with nothing more than a high school education. Conservatives should see that their thinking goes against their argument for increased opportunities. It should be pointed out to them that such ideas are unamerican.

(Thank you for reading. Please, Big Bird, show them the way.)


Anonymous Janey said...

Thank you for yet another wise, insightful and thought-provoking missive, my friend!

October 11, 2012 at 8:33 PM  

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