What do Big Bird and Hurricane Sandy Have in Common?
I know I need to get over it, but I can’t. When Mitt Romney said he would defund PBS in the second debate, it gave me a wicked case of the epic eye rolls. Seriously. Supposed fiscal conservatives always trot out PBS and NPR when asked for a program they would cut to balance the budget, even though the Corporation of Public Broadcasting only accounts for 1/100th of a percent of the federal budget. (And forget the fact that much of PBS and NPR’s budget doesn’t come from the federal government at all.)
In the past I’ve just let threats to defund the CPB roll off me. But I can’t anymore, because I know what they are saying. People who want to defund public broadcasting see it as a worthless expenditure; something the government should have no part in. But as anyone who grew up on PBS programming knows, this is a bunch of malarkey.
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t completely hooked on PBS (which recently celebrated its 43rd birthday). Sesame Street was my personal favorite, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was my brother’s. When I was a kid, PBS was on all day at my house. We watched Barney, Square One, Lambchop’s Play-A-Long, and Thomas the Tank Engine. We learned about math and science and history and culture via puppets and and trains and cartoons.
Perhaps it’s silly, but I take attacks on Sesame Street particularly hard. Not only did those Muppets teach me how to count in Spanish, but also how to be friends with people different from me. Not only did they teach me the alphabet, but also that silly, awkward kids can be heroes. Not only did they teach me that learning can be fun, but also that learning isn’t something that starts and stops in school.
This is a lesson I act on every day, and public broadcasting plays an important role. The only reason I know anything about string theory is because of Nova. Do you think network television – or cable television, for that matter – would have aired all 14 hours of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle? No.
But it’s not just childhood nostalgia or educational idealism that makes me bristle. It’s the fact that it fits so well into the Romney policy pastiche. Hurricane Sandy has reminded us that, if Romney had his way, he would defund FEMA and put emergency relief in the hands of the state. As if we needed reminding, he also wants to repeal Obamacare, which will make it possible for millions of Americans to get health insurance.
I know that this is, to some extent, is a philosophical disagreement between the political right and the political left. However, in the past several days we’ve seen what we can be when we put aside partisan bickering. People are helped. Subways are pumped. Lives are saved. We live in a society. Part of that compact is that we come together to help each other, to pull each other up. I can’t do much from my couch in middle America, but it’s my government and my taxes that are going to help those in need half a continent away. I’m glad I could help fund that. It almost makes up for unfunded wars and tax cuts for the rich. Almost.
You see, this is all part of the right wing modus operandi. Cut services designed to help the most vulnerable among us pick themselves up and make their lives better. It would be great if private enterprise or nonprofits could fix all of society’s ills, but it can’t. America’s health care crisis is a perfect example of that. What are we supposed to do? Stand aside and hope? Most people don’t have that luxury.
Big Bird is only a symbol. It’s a symbol of what good we can do when we band together. That good might be helping people get back on their feet after a natural disaster, or it might be teaching kids to use their brains to solve problems. No one is asking for the government to solve everyone’s problem. But if you recognize that government can be a force for good in the world, the choice this election is clear.
Image credit: seeingimonkey