Mitt Romney has never been a champion of the Little Guy—that much we know—but in the first Presidential debate last week the former Massachusetts governor showed his true colors: he declared war on Big Bird.
This may seem like a trivial point, but bear with me.
“Conventional wisdom” is produced almost immediately these days through social media. So if Twitter and Facebook are any indication, it’s pretty clear that President Obama “lost” last Tuesday’s debate. I’ll admit, he did seem flat, distracted, frustrated at times, and unwilling, as ever, to be “aggressive” and go on the “attack” (that most pundits and the majority of Americans don’t get why is a source of never-ending frustration to anyone who understands the history of race and racism in America). Keeping in mind the fact that Obama had everything to lose and Romney had everything to gain in this week’s debate—and putting aside pesky little things like truth, substance and consistency—I do agree that the Governor had a better night than the President. After all, optics are everything in our new political culture.
But before we strap ourselves to the roof of the Romney Express, let’s keep in mind that the former Governor—in one of his pre-packaged “zingers”—also said this: “I’m sorry Jim [Lehrer, the veteran-journalist-turned-useless-debate-moderator], I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS…I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you too.” Before the debate was even over, one of my Facebook friends quipped that Jim Lehrer had done more to stop the flow of contributions to PBS than Mitt Romney ever could. Another friend, a Mormon Republican, wrote to assure me that only a small percentage of PBS funding—about 12 percent—comes from the federal government, so I shouldn’t fret too much. Neither of these posts managed to calm the raw anger I felt the minute I heard him throw Big Bird under the bus. A pathetic, predictable moment of pandering to his conservative base, it also tells us everything we need to know about the real Mitt Romney.
Like so many people, Sesame Street defined my childhood. It was the weekly television ritual my Catholic parents used to keep me preoccupied while they attended back-to-back Masses when I was too young to behave in church. Sesame Street also provided me with the best kind of education, as it has countless children across the globe for more than four decades. It’s where I learned how to count, spell, speak Spanish, dream and care about other people (and puppets). Think about it: Sesame Street—in the turbulent and transformative 1970s—was a multicultural, multilingual urban neighborhood where humans and puppets of every background, color, talent and temperament lived in harmony, if not always in total agreement. You had a strong black couple, a Latina teenager, a really nice white guy, puppet roommates who were most likely gay, a small business owner who loved kids, a clumsy pastry chef, a monster with a sweet tooth, a counting vampire, a flying superhero, a green grouch who lived in a trash can and an optimistic yellow bird who had the capacity to imagine as his best friend a lumbering brown beast who didn’t quite see the world as he saw it. Sesame Street was an inclusive and inspiring place, a beloved community—the kind of neighborhood where all of us wanted to live.