Mitt Romney's line about Big Bird went viral overnight -- but it is not new.
At 43, Big Bird is a lot older than most Americans would think. And as part of Romney's stump speech since last December, his involvement in this campaign is a lot as well.
During last night's debate, Romney explained a budget measure he often describes on the trail -- cutting federal funding to PBS, which has been airing "Sesame Street" since 1969. "I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm gonna stop other things," Romney said to moderator Jim Lehrer, whose Newshour program has aired on the broadcaster since 1975. "I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too." However, in Romney's vision, they are considered non-essential elements of the federal budget and should not be publically funded.
Since early in his candidacy, Romney has spoken about cuts he would make to the federal budget in order to balance it and reduce American dependency on other countries. While he often remarked that President Obama's health care plan would be first on his list of cuts, he also spoke of publically-funded programs such as PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. At the start of a three day bus tour ahead of the New Hampshire primary, the grandfather of eighteen (sixteen at the time) brought "Sesame Street's" beloved bird onto the stump.
Talking to the workers of Hypertherm factory in Hanover, N.H., at a town hall on December 21, 2011, he said that while public television was of value, it would not be worth borrowing money from China for in order to subsidize. Romney quipped, using what was a new line at the time, "I'm not going to make Big Bird go away, but there's going to be advertising on PBS if I'm president." The crowd did not seem to mind, and the line stayed. He elaborated that making such cuts was along the lines of rhetoric former President John F. Kennedy might have employed - saying that instead of being a nation expecting "free stuff," Americans should be more inclined to "dig deep, work hard, and sacrifice for America."
He has continued to employ Big Bird throughout his time on the trail, using other pop culture analogies to explain that he wants cereal commercials on PBS. In Lansing, Mich., on February 25, he explained "You know, we send money every year to PBS so they don't have to have advertising on 'Sesame Street'. I like 'Sesame Street'. But I'm willing to have Big Bird look at Corn Flakes from time to time, all right?"
In a statement released today, PBS wrote in a press release that it was "very disappointed" that Romney used them - and its famed character - as "a political target" last night. "For more than 40 years, Big Bird has embodied the public broadcasting mission - harnessing the power of media for the good of every citizen, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. Our system serves as a universally accessible resource for education, history, science, arts and civil discourse."