In last week’s first presidential debate, Mitt Romney gave us his litmus test for determining whether a program deserves government funding: Is the program important enough to warrant borrowing money from China?
In what seemed to be his only unscripted moment of the evening, Romney let us see the man behind the mask. Romney told moderator Jim Lehrer, the PBS NewsHour host and debate moderator, he would not make the cut.
Worse than that, Romney singled out Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster and the rest of the "Sesame Street" crew for execution. Some commentators have made light of Romney’s comments, but I assure you they are no laughing matter.
Conservatives like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th) have been trying to get rid of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for a long time, but not for the financial reasons proposed by Gov. Romney.
To suggest the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), at a current expenditure of about $444 million out of an overall national budget of about $3.7 trillion, is a primary driver of the national debt borders on the ludicrous.
No, the right-wing extremists in this country have a much more nefarious reason for wanting to cut all funding to the CPB. Despite proof to the contrary, conservatives persist in spreading the rumor that PBS and NPR - the most visible and well known recipients of funds through the CPB – support an elitist, liberal, left-wing agenda that is a threat to the republic.
According to their own official site, CPB also funds
". . . ITVS (the Independent Television Service) and five minority program consortia, which represent African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander television producers."
And – again according to CPB’s own statement:
" Since 1968, CPB has been the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting and the largest single source of funding for public radio, television, and related online and mobile services. For approximately $1.35 per American per year, CPB provides essential operational support for the nearly 1,300 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations, which reach virtually every household in the country."
As I see it, for $1.35 per person, we get intelligent, engaging, non-commercial programming on everything from science and nature, the performing arts, news and current events, cooking, children’s television and fun stuff like "Downton Abbey."
The loss to America if the relatively meager funding for CPB, and by extension PBS, were to be discontinued is bad enough, but to single out Sesame Street for the chopping block is going too far.
Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street crew have been welcomed into our homes for more than 40 years. They have made learning fun for pre-school children across economic, ethnic and racial lines - and all without commercial breaks for pharmaceuticals.
"Sesame Street" is also one of our most successful ambassadors with 20 independent international versions - broadcast in over 120 countries-bringing hope, tolerance and understanding to children around the world.
The spirit of independent broadcasting must continue. (Whether programs that depend on funding from corporations - because the funding provided by the CPB is too small - in order to survive are indeed independent is a debate for another time.)
What is a surprise is that a hugely successful businessman like Mitt Romney would not have the wherewithal to consider what he would be throwing away by ending federal support for CPB. Funding CPB will not result in a windfall for the Chinese economy or the collapse of the American system. For the price, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a huge value.
Let’s find some other item in the budget we can trim to save Big Bird and his "Sesame Street" friends. I can think of a few right off the bat and I’m sure you can as well. Suggestions welcome!