Having been routed in the first debate, President Obama has found a comeback strategy: Fly Big Bird. Specifically, mock Mitt Romney's call to cut federal subsidies for the millionaires at the Sesame Workshop and pledge to defend the Public Broadcasting Service no matter how much money the Treasury has to borrow.
At least he's finally discovered a second-term agenda.
On Monday night in San Francisco, Mr. Obama claimed Mr. Romney "said he'd bring down our deficit by going after what has been the biggest driver of our debt and deficits over the last decade—public television, PBS. You didn't know this, but for all you moms and kids out there, you should have confidence that finally somebody is cracking down on Big Bird." He's also rolled out a TV ad starring the Sesame Street favorite.
Mr. Obama is mocking a small effort to reduce federal spending, but it would be funnier if Mr. Obama hadn't also rejected all the larger efforts too. From Congressional Republicans. From his own Simpson-Bowles deficit commission. From a bipartisan group in the Senate. At the San Francisco event, as at the debate, as at every other campaign event this year, Mr. Obama offered no plan to move the government's spending into the same galaxy with its revenues.
Columnist Kim Strassel on President Obama invoking Big Bird on the stump. Photos: Associated Press
But the Big Bird jokes kept rolling, along with the usual fact-free attack against the Republican candidate. "Governor Romney's plan is to let Wall Street run wild again, but he's going to bring the hammer down on 'Sesame Street,'" said the President, in the definition of a non-sequitur.
The United States may be on a fiscal path to Greece, and working-class guys in Toledo may have stagnant incomes, but Mr. Obama says their tax dollars must continue to flow to one of the most successful TV properties of all time. Middle-aged readers may think that Big Bird's popularity peaked in the 1970s, but his earnings power remains strong.
According to financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2011, Sesame Workshop and its nonprofit and for-profit subsidiaries had total operating revenue of more than $134 million. They receive about $8 million a year in direct government grants and more indirectly via PBS subsidies. Big Bird and friends also receive corporate and foundation support, and donations amount to about a third of revenue. Distribution fees and royalties comprise another third and licensing revenue makes up the rest.
At the end of fiscal 2011, Sesame Workshop and its subsidiaries had total assets of $289 million. About $29 million was held in cash and "cash equivalents," mainly money-market mutual funds. Another $121 million on the balance sheet was held in "investments." According to the accompanying notes, these investments included stakes in hedge funds and private-equity funds. It's unclear from the financial statements if Big Bird has ever invested in funds run by Bain Capital, founded by Mitt Romney, but no doubt Sesame would be welcomed as a client by many investment managers.
So Big Bird likes to maximize revenues and investment gains as much as the next muppet. And now the President has made this adorable critter the symbol of federal programs that allegedly require eternal taxpayer aid, even if it has to be put on the future tax bill of today's pre-schoolers. Is that funny?
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