Posts Tagged ‘public broadcasting’

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Romney’s Big Bird Problem

October 11, 2012
How to Save Money in today's Economy - Romney Style

Saving America’s Economy – Romney Style

Who didn’t chuckle when Romney said Big Bird at last weeks presidential debate? Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Tea Partier; no matter who you are, summoning an image of Big Bird makes you happy.  He’s yellow, feathery, rides a unicycle, sings and lives in a nest on Sesame Street. Baby Boomers raised their kids on him and we loved it. Kids still love him. Understandably then Romney’s spending cuts that threaten Big Bird’s livelihood have been met with alarm. The Obama camp promptly pounced on the opportunity to exploit Romney’s gaff with an ad this week.

And amidst all this Big Bird hoopla, I can’t help but wonder if European and Asian democracies are snickering at our squabbling politicians at the heels of an election. But then I realized, Big Bird commands this much political attention because he is a symbol of the American childhood experience. And when Romney so bluntly made axing him a pillar of his economic policy, it demonstrated his unintentional, but apparent lack of empathy for the public.

Most people may not have a problem with an argument to cut government subsidies to certain programs, but by specifying Big Bird, Romney just confirmed aloofness to the average American experience. Any politician may have made an argument for cuts to public spending but might not have singled out Big Bird and the very host who was moderating that debate. Romney however seems so convinced that his success in business necessarily will translate to all realms of politics that he seems to forget that what matters most to him (dollars and cents), is not what matters most to all Americans, all the time.

Even in this difficult economy, people may want more than a detached businessman in office, and justifiably so. Someone who sees public broadcasting as nothing more than a dollar figure that can be cut does not understand the cultural value it holds. An unadulterated business person without nuances to see the limitations of free market capitalism and rational actor model just does not seem like a good pick in an economy suffering a financial meltdown as a result of insufficiently checked private markets. And Romney’s Big Bird comment epitomized this imbalanced approach to not just economics, but America.

By extension, I think the reason women have had such a hard time with Romney is not just because of his right wing stance on hot button political issues including abortion and contraception, but because this lack of empathy is unnerving. Beyond a business man with aggressive economic success, I don’t know what this man stands for. It’s unnerving because according to classic economic and rational actor theory, maximizing profit are ideal objectives. So when Romney talks about cutting spending, it doesn’t matter how many American families actually feel  about public broadcasting, it doesn’t matter if Big Bird has come to symbolize a child’s happy, healthy world of learning and imagination. Rather, Romney’s gaff is a sincere commitment to the bottom line; dollars and cents. It’s a gaff because it inadvertently revealed a lack of empathy and economic arrogance.

Mitt Romney's Idea of Economic Reform

Mitt Romney’s Idea of Economic Reform

His Big Bird comment reminds me that a leader of this country needs to be more than just an accomplished professional, but also an empathetic person. It is still a unipolar world and the American President has a tremendous responsibility to this country and beyond. I think Americans are more nuanced than Mitt Romney, and no matter how much spin and politicking takes place from here on out, I hope we realize that this country represents more than a dollar figure.

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