Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A campaign mired in its own mindlessness

Practically everyone on TV and internet has condemned the silly new ad over-dramatizing the threat to Big Bird and somehow equating Bernie Maddow whom Mitt Romney is doing nothing about (perhaps because the Bush administration already arrested him. And as Ed Morrissey points out, the Obama administration declined to prosecute Jon Corzine.) to center his war on Big Bird.

This is an absolutely moronic ad. Apparently, the Obama campaign thinks it is edgy and will excite their youth base while tapping into a supposed "strong grassroots outcry over the attacks on Big Bird."

I am not sure why they want to continue to remind people of the worst moment of the campaign for their guy, but that's fine. However, the longer that they focus their attack on big Bird, they are ignoring the issues that people are really concerned about. They've provided the RNC with the opportunity to make this contrast between what concerned voters are focused on and what the Obama campaign is talking about. And the contrast with today's hearing on the murders of four Americans in Benghazi is stark.
Apparently, the Obama campaign thinks it will play big on comedy shows and among young people, and perhaps it will. When my 10th graders discussed last week's debate in class, they all remarked on Romney's comments on Big Bird. It was actually a surprise to them that the federal government subsidized PBS. They thought it was paid for by "viewers like you." But they laughed out loud at the idea that Sesame Street would collapse without a federal subsidy. They know how many Sesame Street-related toys there are out there. Obama is defending the one show on PBS that is the best able to survive without any federal help. The contrast between Republicans who are willing to make an unpopular choice to cut federal spending and the Democrats who aren't even willing to cut money to a wealthy corporation that has plenty of products out there to sell to fund their show is quite telling. The Democrats are stuck with arguing both that the federal subsidy is so small - $445 million or .01 percent of the federal budget - that it is not worth cutting and that the money is so important to PBS that it shouldn't be cut. However, Sesame Street doesn't need that money. Even the head of Sesame Workshop has said that they'll be just fine without federal subsidies.
Not much, according to an interview CNN did with Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Sesame Workshop.

"Sesame Workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS. So, we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship," Westin told CNN. "So quite frankly, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of public broadcasting. But when they always try to tout out Big Bird, and say we’re going to kill Big Bird – that is actually misleading, because Sesame Street will be here."
Even PoliFact is rating the Obama claim that Romney wants to fire Big Bird as a "Pants on Fire" lie.
In its latest attempt to portray Romney as heartless, the Obama campaign is making a serious allegation that he wants to put one of America's most beloved children's characters in the unemployment line.

Romney has been clear that his plan for PBS is not specific to Big Bird (nor to Jim Lehrer for that matter). He simply wants to end federal subsidies.

It's a ridiculous stretch to equate that with firing the 8-foot-2 yellow bird. Just as Democrats have scared senior citizens about losing Medicare, they are now scaring preschoolers about losing Big Bird. Pants on Fire!
Of course, Sesame Workshop wants PBS to keep getting money because that is the "distribution system" for the show. But no one thinks that Sesame Street would disappear from the airwaves even if there were no PBS. Any network that appeals to young children would snap it up in a flash. And they could probably work out some deal to air it without commercial interruptions if Sesame Workshop so demanded.

And the longer that the Democrats keep talking about Big Bird, the more opportunity we have to learn about how much money Sesame Workshop pulls in. The WSJ reports,
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?
And let's not forget that Sesame Street got over $1 million in stimulus money and created 1.47 jobs. I hope the Romney team will start bringing that up since it's a perfect encapsulation of how little the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus, had to do with providing jobs.

The longer that Obama keeps talking about Big Bird, the more that the Romney campaign can say that they're talking about the issues people care about the terrible economy and the Obama campaign is talking about Bird fluff. Jennifer Rubin summarizes the ways in which this is such a stupid approach for the Obama campaign.
Let’s tally up the ways in which this ad is not helpful to the Obama camp. It keeps discussion of Debate-aggedon going. It is petty, suggesting that’s all the campaign has got to talk about. It makes Mitt Romney’s budget argument all the more powerful — liberals can’t part with PBS subsidies, so how are they going to make the tough calls on the debt? It chews up news cycles and time, neither of which Obama can afford to fritter away at this point. It gives the media another opportunity to show their “even-handedness” by lambasting the Obama team (after months of cooing and protecting the president from hard questions). It will annoy liberals donors and the base, who are already wondering if Obama really wants to win this race.

I probably left out a few things, but you get the point. Now, we shouldn’t get too carried away with one stupid ad. That said, it is indicative of a campaign that is feeling the absence of a positive agenda and whose barbs have missed the mark.
This ad strikes me as something that a bunch of young campaign aides came up with sitting around with one eye on Facebook and another eye on Comedy Central. They see the chatter on social media sites with jokes about Romney firing Big Bird and laughed as they came up with their gimmicky ad. Their ad seems humorous and cool and edgy and that is how they view themselves and Obama. It's all about appealing to young people like them. And perhaps it will. But what they don't seem to grasp is that nothing is as targeted these days as politics used to be. An ad that plays to young people will appear on the inernet and be seen by other people. political analysts will play it and they're all panning it as a truly bad idea. So the point will get made over and over that Obama is focused on Big Bird. They'll play clips of Obama talking about Big Bird and Elmo and then, in pursuit of fairness, play a clip of Romney contrasting all the people out of work and worrying about the economy while Obama is talking about Big Bird. As Allahpundit writes,
Two problems. First, needless to say, Romney’s point about PBS isn’t that serious deficit reduction should start there, it’s that not even popular federal outlays should be immune from cuts in the name of restoring fiscal stability. A guy who bet his presidential candidacy on Paul Ryan is about as serious as an American politician can get when it comes to spending. And let me gently suggest to Team O that any campaign that treats the Buffett Rule as an important budgetary reform shouldn’t wag its finger too sternly in criticizing others for half-measures. Second, the Big Bird ad is actually very typical of Hopenchange’s M.O. this year. They’ve tried to bludgeon Romney with every cheap demagogic populist ploy within reach. How were they supposed to lay off an easy opportunity to suggest that Mitt hates moms and kids and puppets? What’s unusual about the spot isn’t that it’s trivial, it’s that they released it at a moment of real momentum for Romney, which in turn makes them look desperate and inept.
So in a desire to be funny and cool, the Obama campaign seems out of touch with voters' very serious concerns. Well done, Obama campaign. Please keep it up. You keep spending more time talking about Big Bird instead of talking about Obama's nonexistent plans to bring down unemployment or increase economic growth or about their dishonest reaction to the murder of an American ambassador. You just keep doing that for the next four weeks. Please.