Photo Credit: Steve Mack, Getty Images
The first presidential debate turned out to be bruising for President Obama. And surprisingly bruising too for a non-candidate who wasn’t even in the ring: Big Bird.
By now, it’s well known -- and it’s been widely circulated on social media in the form of the now de rigueur memes and spoof Twitter handles -- that Mitt Romney took a swipe at the lovable Sesame Street character when he said this to moderator Jim Lehrer (who, incidentally, works for PBS):
“I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”
(A brief pause for scale here: Immediately after Romney’s comment, the popular astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson tweeted, “Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive,” a resonant perspective that garnered close to 60,000 retweets.)
Anyway, when you take a swipe at an unsuspecting and defenseless feathered character from the most beloved children’s show probably in TV history -- you have a lot of angry moms to answer to.
The Facebook page for Today Moms posed the question to its subscribers as to whether there’s a “Big Bird vote” -- in other words whether moms’ connection to Sesame Street and PBS was strong enough to sway their decision at the ballot box.
Some said, strongly, yes.
Jill Naumann, for instance, wrote, “Really you're going to balance the budget by cutting off PBS? Uninspired, silly and shows no real understanding of the real problem. My advice to Mr. Romney, if you want my vote you are going to have to do a whole lot better and guess what I'm not in the 47%!”
Pamela Dixon agreed, writing, “Sounds to me that Mitt Romney is not out for the children. You cut the one show that young children watch to learn and sing. There are other things to cut. Does not make sense to me to cut anything to do for the betterment of children.”
However, there were a considerable number of dissenting voices as well. “I love Big Bird but if it means we have to borrow money from China to watch Big Bird I think I can do without it,” wrote Paula Price Griffin.
Amanda Marsilio Burlinson, the mother of a nearly five year old and a big fan of PBS, nevertheless wrote, “I don't believe, in this economy, we should be funding $400 or so million dollars for PBS. Just as every household has had to make tough budget decision and eliminate some things to stay afloat, so does our government. I also think it's ridiculous that with all of the other topics, points and facts discussed last night, this is the one getting the most press. It will not affect my vote.”
So while, yes, some moms are fuming mad and prepared to become “Big Bird voters,” others’ politics is just too nuanced to hang on one television show, beloved as it may be.
Nevertheless, in a debate with no real zingers, PBS is all the buzz this week, and Big Bird is enjoying significant national attention -- not bad for an aging celebrity!
Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and iVillage’s Chief Election News Blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @alicedubin.