The War on Big Bird? or, Unnecessary Martyrdom

I swore I wasn’t going to write about Big Bird.

I wasn’t gonna do it.  It was low-hanging fruit.  Everyone else on the internet was already going to town on that comment.  And there were far more substantial issues to rail against Romney on.

I was going to write about Medicaid. 

But I can’t.  Cannot bring myself to sit down and calmly discuss Romney’s threat promise to send Medicaid back to the states, and his eloquent response (“Meh”) when it was pointed out that this would mean cutting Medicaid by 30%, and that needy people would lose necessary coverage.  I can’t do it, because my daughter is covered by Medicaid.  It’s her only health insurance.  It’s the reason she could go and be checked out by a pediatrician the day after she was born, and the reason she’s had her immunizations.  When she woke me up by vomiting a truly frightening amount of spoiled milk one morning (no joke, she made a pool in the bed), Medicaid is the reason I had a nurse to call, who could calm me down from my panic and help me determine whether it was serious or normal.  (She was fine.)

So when Romney talks about cutting Medicaid, it’s not academic for me.  To me, this is him telling me that he does not care about whether or not my infant daughter stays healthy.  That it’s ok with him if a 3-month-old can’t go to the pediatrician when she’s sick, just so he doesn’t have to raise taxes for the wealthy.  And when I see people supporting Romney – even my wonderful, lovely neighbors who’ve always been so kind and cut our lawn for us when my mother-in-law died – I see red.  I can’t help it.  It feels personal – it feels like a giant “Fuck you!” to my daughter, like telling her that it’s ok with them if she gets sick or even dies, so long as their taxes aren’t affected.

So I can’t discuss that topic, not rationally, not really.  When I try, my mommy instincts kick in and what would have been a calm, if slightly snarky post about why this is a bad idea and says some telling things about Romney’s character, instead turns into YOU THREATEN MY DAUGHTER, I KEEL YOU WHERE YOU STAND!!!  RAAAAR!!!

…So yeah.  Big Bird.

Romney’s talk of cutting funds for PBS has been one of the most incomprehensible things to come out of his mouth this whole election season.  First of all, any time you find yourself on the opposite side from Mister Rogers, you may need to reexamine both your position and your life choices.  Second of all, he couldn’t have said anything MORE guaranteed to turn people my age and younger out to vote against him.  The internet generation may be apathetic about politics, but god help you if you mess with our childhood.

But most importantly, from a budget standpoint, it makes no goddamn sense.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson has so famously said, “Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive.”  So why would he do it, and why would he make such a point of doing it?

The most charitable explanation is that Mitt is just really bad at math.  This isn’t a good excuse, by the way – I’d like it if a man who wants to be president has at least a passing familiarity with numbers – but it gives him the benefit of the doubt.  It doesn’t assume bad faith.

But what other reasons might there be?

One possibility is that it’s a conservative dog whistle.  There’s a long-held belief amongst conservatives that PBS is a hotbed of liberal bias. As far as I can tell, this began with Bill Moyer’s show, which was perceived to be biased.  Whether it was or not is debatable, but since then, the accusations have spiraled to some fairly ridiculous extremes.  So it’s entirely possible that Mitt might be trying to give his far-right supporters the nod – “I’m totally right there with you on your paranoid delusions.  We got this!”  Which would be… silly?  I’m not convinced Romney really wants to publicly align himself with people who think Sesame Street is brainwashing your children, but to judge from comments I’ve read, there are plenty of people out there on the right who are cheering him specifically for attacking the “liberal agenda” of PBS.

This line of reasoning squicks me out more than a little.  I mean… I guess I can understand not wanting to give public funds to something you truly believe to be partisan, but the whole thing just has undertones of censorship and McCarthy-esque witch hunts, and it makes me uncomfortable.

Happily, though, I don’t really think that’s Romney’s reason either.  Oh, I don’t think he’s fool enough to dissuade those in his party who are happy to see it as the reason, but I don’t think it is. I can’t base this on anything more than a hunch, but although it’s no secret that I think Romney is a horrible human being, I can’t quite believe he would be that nasty, at least not in that way.

No, my gut feeling is that he’s being nasty in a different way.

I see the attack on PBS as the first volley of austerity politics – a philosophy that can be summed up as “This is why we can’t have nice things!”  In vain do people protest “but everyone likes PBS!  You like PBS!”  That, I think, is the point.  To send the message that, if we want to get serious about fixing the economy, we all have to tighten our belts and give up things, even if we like them.  To show us that Mitt Romney isn’t afraid to make the hard decisions, even when it hurts to do so.

(Side note: when did we decide that quality of life should be sacrificed in the name of money?  As far as I’m aware, money is really only useful in that it can provide a better quality of life.)

Storytime: a few years ago, in a club I used to belong to, I had this friend.  (Name omitted and gender-neutral pronouns used to protect the innocent.)  Zie was well-known for being a very nice, sweet person.  But then zie wound up in a position of power, and began to worry.  Was zie too nice to be respected?  Would people walk all over hir, or try to take advantage?  And other people whispered: if it came to it, would zie be strong enough to make the tough calls, or would hir generous nature make hir too soft-hearted, too wishy-washy?  Conscious of this, whenever the opportunity arose, zie would steel hirself and force hirself to make the hard, painful, sometimes unpopular decision.

Every time.

Whether it was the right decision or not. 

Austerity proponents often strike the same chord in me – they’re so desperate to prove that they’re willing to do whatever it takes, cut whatever programs they have to, so that the world will know they’re serious-minded and tough… that they don’t actually stop to wonder whether or not it’s what they should do.  Someone with that mindset could never have taken the steps necessary to jolt us out of the Great Depression, for fear that someone might accuse them of catering to freeloaders and spending money capriciously.  Someone with that mindset would never let themselves see past the initial cost of, say, improving infrastructure to recognize the eventual payoff – or the long-term cost of not doing so.  Instead, such spending would be painted as frivolous and wasteful, spending even more money when the deficit is already so bad – ignoring the fact that, with the deficit as bad as it is, the only way to fix it in the long run may well be to spend more money right now.

Well, Mitt Romney wants you to know that he’s not frivolous.  He’s not wasteful.  He can step up to the plate and make the hard decisions, dammit!  Even though it hurts, he’s so committed to fixing the budget that he’s even willing to cut funding for PBS, and he has faith that America will accept this sacrifice stoically and heroically.  Cuz that’s just the guy he is, and just the guy he trusts us to be.

Nevermind that it doesn’t do a damn bit of good.

One thought on “The War on Big Bird? or, Unnecessary Martyrdom

  1. First, as to Medicade, I think you’re on the right track in thinking about your daughter first. And you should make everybody else think of her. It’s the same reason why I take all the worst things said about queer people at large personally: it’s a lot easier to be dismissive of vague impressions of people. It’s not as easy to say, “Yes, I’m willing to let your daughter die from lack of health care.”

    As to your larger point, I think a lot of the belt-tightening rhetoric comes from people who either don’t understand how macroeconomics works, or know that most people don’t understand how macroeconomics works. They assume that running a country is a lot like running a household budget, and in many ways it is, but in many ways it isn’t. For example, cutting Medicade is like cutting doctor visits to your household budget, not like getting slower internet. “Oh, you’re sick, Billy? Well, why did you get chicken pox anyway? Can’t you just work harder at curing yourself of it?”

    However, unlike in a household, the government can borrow money at negative interest (as in, they pay us to have their money) and hire people, which a household just can’t do. “Today I’m going to paint the house, and I’ve decided to pay myself $180 to do so!” (i.e. that works with countries) Austerity programs are like telling a starving person that the secret is to eat less of the little food they have and work harder to grow more food in the future. Sure, if they survive it, they may be ok, but odds are in favor of dying of starvation first.

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