When Mitt Romney told PBS’s Presidential Debate moderator Jim Lehrer that he, if elected president, would defund Public Television and Big Bird, he set off an uproar in many households across the county, and got me saying under my breath, keep your mitts off of Big Bird, Mr. Romney! Sure, everyone knows that Mr. Romney was merely tossing a bone to the rabid far right wing of his Republican party, who incessantly yammer on year after year with calls to kill tax dollars going into PBS and NPR. But there was a deeper and more telling message in Romney’s seemingly off the cuff statement.
It has to do with kindness, or the lack thereof, within Romney’s campaign speeches overall and that of what has become the predominant voice of the Republican Party today, that supports tax breaks for the wealthy while making it harder for disadvantaged people to vote and access the ever-shrinking network of publicly provided social services.
Never mind that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which channels funding to NPR and PBS amounts to, get this, .00012 percent of our national budget; or that one of Public Broadcasting’s principal missions is advancing education, of which Mr. Romney repeatedly says he supports. No. What leaves me baffled is how far the “meanness meter” has jumped overall within the Grand Old Party itself, and for what purpose?
Has Mitt ever asked his grandchildren what they think about Sesame Street, the home of Big Bird and other beloved characters on Public Television? (Ironically, Sesame Street in reality receives very little Federal dollars.) Just why is it that so many adults across party lines have the fondest memories of growing up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, a show that was created by the late Fred Rogers? One wonders how many Republican parents out there, with the ax at the ready to cut PBS funding, have children who are watching a PBS children’s show this very moment? What gives?
In 1969, Fred Rogers appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. His goal was to support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to significant proposed cuts by President Nixon.* There’s a great clip of that hearing on YouTube, which show’s Mr. Rogers in his inevitable gentle manor and grace, melting away the hard heartedness and resistance of the US Senators before him.
When I finished the clip I was struck by the nagging question of, “When did it become such a disdainful thing for people, through the ability and power of their government, to provide something so simple and so kind for the betterment of us all?”
Thanks to my friend Dylan for reminding me that this and other great Mr. Rogers’ clips are still teaching us today.
* – Opening sentence in paragraph five quoted from YouTube.
All other text by Kevin Lee