Democrats fret about Big Bird's star turn in Obama campaign

WASHINGTON Thu Oct 11, 2012 8:01am EDT

President Barack Obama walks up the steps of Air Force One before departing Rickenbacker Inland Port in Columbus, Ohio, ending a three-day campaign swing to California and Ohio, October 9, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Barack Obama walks up the steps of Air Force One before departing Rickenbacker Inland Port in Columbus, Ohio, ending a three-day campaign swing to California and Ohio, October 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In 2008, singer provided Barack Obama's presidential campaign with music for its signature anthem, "Yes We Can." On Tuesday, at a rally for Obama in Columbus, Ohio, the performer chose to play something new: the theme song for "Sesame Street."

For Obama's supporters, already dismayed by the president's halting performance in last week's debate with Republican Mitt Romney, that change in tune is a new source for concern as they fret that a children's TV show has become a new backdrop for their candidate's campaign.

In a moment of tightening polls and climbing anxiety for Obama's supporters, the president's decision to grant Big Bird a starring role in his campaign this week has presented another reason to reach for the Alka-Seltzer.

After Romney named Big Bird as part of a promise to pull government funding for public television, Obama's campaign released a caustic new ad mocking Romney for thinking the character was a "big, yellow menace to our economy."

Since the debate, Obama has been piling on, joking about Romney's designs for the TV show at every campaign stop.

Conservatives have been crowing that the silly turn in the campaign diminishes the president.

"President Obama tried to give the bird to Mitt Romney—but wound up laying an egg," the New York Post wrote Wednesday.

Liberals point out that it was Romney who started the Big Bird mess. Still, the tactic may have led to a kind of role reversal for Obama and Romney. Throughout the summer, the Republican was criticized for lurching from one news cycle to the next, introducing attack lines that seemed to detract from his central message that Obama had stunted economic growth.

Now Obama, some Democrats fear, is seeking to revive his campaign with too light a jolt. They worry the president looks small by enlisting the eight-foot (2.4-metre) costume bird in his defense.

Romney's presidency would endanger more than a television character - if a beloved one - they say, and Obama's "Sesame Street" jabs belittle that peril.

"I'm not sure I understand why he is doing it," said Bill Galston, a former Bill Clinton adviser.

It got worse for the Democrats on Tuesday when the makers of Sesame Street asked them to pull the ad because they did not want Big Bird associated with politics.

The long-running U.S. children's television series, which first aired in 1969, uses a collection of puppets and costumed characters, puppeteer Jim Henson's Muppets, along with short films, humor and animation to promote early childhood education and creativity.


The more conspiratorial campaign watchers reckon maybe the president's team must know something Washington does not.

Perhaps, promising to save Big Bird is a winner among moms. A Pew Research Center survey released this week observed an 18-point swing in Romney's favor among likely women voters over the course of the last month.

Maybe the Obama folks think the only way to bandage the hurt caused by Obama's weak debate performance is with laughter.

The winking ad with its knowing use of irony could be a play for young voters, a nudge that says Obama is still the hip politician they knocked on doors for in 2008.

In a cloudy week where Democrats have formed a search party for silver linings, some hope the Big Bird ad is an attack line that merely hasn't reached its proper conclusion.

Before the campaign retires it, they hope Obama will link Romney's enthusiasm for canning the "Sesame Street" characters with a much larger statement about the former private equity executive's character.

Obama should talk about how Romney suggested PBS news host Jim Lehrer would lose his job too — and grinning while doing it, said Dick Harpootlian, Democratic party chair in South Carolina.

"There's nothing funny about firing anybody," said Harpootlian. "Why do you smile when you say you are going to fire somebody?"

The Obama campaign has said Big Bird was added to the campaign cast to shed doubt on Romney's seriousness as a candidate.

"When Mitt Romney was given the opportunity to lay out his plans for bringing down the deficit, he gave the same answer he has given dozens of times on the campaign trail, which was to cut funding for Big Bird," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

"If that doesn't point out the lack of seriousness with his deficit reduction plan, I am not sure what does. The ad is an opportunity to highlight that."

Befitting a campaign that has turned toward toddler television, Romney's response has been, in effect, to say he is rubber and Obama glue.

"These are tough times with real serious issues," Romney said in Iowa Tuesday. "So you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird."

(Editing By Alistair Bell, Todd Eastham and Eric Walsh)

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Comments (5)
checkthefacts wrote:
Its further proof we don’t need Obama as our leader. He is out of touch. He doesn’t have plans or solutions for our problems so he spends his time and money focusing on petty issues. One small setback or hardship and he starts doing the strangest things.

Oct 11, 2012 9:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
What’s a joke is this is seriously a Romney policy. It’s the only thing he’s defined as far as what he’ll cut. Democrats are pointing that out. The american people aren’t laughing. We’ve had this discussion before and republicans paid the price. Now Romney touts it as his centerpiece for cutting loopholes. Check your story because the american people should be laughing at how inept the plan is coming from the republican side

Oct 11, 2012 1:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
QuarkHadron wrote:
The saddest part is American’s are so easily distracted from important issues. But the people on the extreme left and the extreme right are simpleminded enough to go for it.

Also very sad is this silly partisan bickering, as if “two sides” is the only possible way to split the vote. Fortunately there are a lot of people like me who are starting to see that compromise from the extremes isn’t possible. A moderate ‘liberal’ has more in common with a moderate ‘conservative’ than they do with the people on the looney left extreme. And likewise the moderate conservative has very little in common with the extreme right wing nuts.

The rational, reasonable people in the middle make up the true majority, yet we aren’t represented by either party because they must appeal to their extremes to hope for enough votes to get reelected.

Compromise is not possible from the extremes. It is possible from the middle. But as long as the two parties dominate our political system, we will continue to get career politicians who serve only themselves. STOP voting for the same people over and over and over.

Don’t attribute the swings you’ve seen in the past few elections (from one party to the other then back again) to people voting ‘for’ either party. It is people like me trying to break the two party duopoly by voting ‘against’ incumbents of either party. The press won’t touch it, but it is true – look at the swings that you have seen for proof – There are a lot of us trying to help you partisans get back to a government of ‘the people.’ Be a little easier if more of you would wise up.

Oct 11, 2012 1:49pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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