Monday, October 15, 2012

Old School

Michael Barone makes a very good point about the campaign -- actually, several good points:

On the campaign trail in the week after the presidential debate, Obama mentioned Big Bird 13 times -- 13 times more than he mentioned Libya.

And the Obama campaign rolled out a 30-second spot showing Mitt Romney saying "Big Bird" several times. Even liberals labeled it the worst TV ad they had ever seen.

But someone in the Obama campaign -- and remember that the campaign always reflects the candidate -- thought hitting Romney for defunding PBS, "Sesame Street" and Big Bird would be devastating.

Never mind that "Sesame Street" gets little money from the government and has an endowment in the hundreds of millions. As the "Sesame" folks assured us, Big Bird is going to continue to be on the air whatever Romney does.

The Big Bird offensive would have been more effective in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Obama came of political age. Lots of people then saw public broadcasting as a needed alternative to commercial television.

First of all, if I were Obama, I'd prefer not to talk about Libya either. Nothing good could come of it. The larger point about how television has changed since the 1970s can't be overstated. When Sesame Street first came on the air, there really wasn't much educational television available. Sesame Street changed that and it was one of many such television shows that I remember seeing, including "The Electric Company," "Zoom" and more. While I preferred watching Bugs Bunny cartoons myself, my younger siblings gained an undeniable benefit from watching such shows, as have my own children.

However, my children also have had a chance to watch a lot of other educational shows available on other channels. Not everyone gets cable television, but in the internet era you can get at pretty much any educational show you want, any time you want. And if PBS were to go out of business tomorrow, and it won't, Sesame Street would have no trouble finding a home on commercial television.

There's a larger point here, which Barone also makes by looking at some of the statements Joe Biden made in last week's debate, in between mugging for the cameras:

On entitlements, Biden said that Social Security and Medicare were "guaranteed." That's not what most young voters think. They understand in some visceral way that the current programs are unsustainable.

In his closing statement Biden identified Romney's "47 percent of the people who won't take responsibility" with "my mother and father. He's talking about the places I grew up in, my neighbors in Scranton, [Pa.], and Claymont, [Del.]"

Those people, born around 1920, would rally to candidates who promised to maintain Social Security and Medicare when Biden first ran for the Senate in 1972. They would understand his reference to Republican opposition to these programs when they were enacted in 1935 and 1965. But that's 77 and 47 years ago now.
It is a long time ago. And we've been conducting a longitudinal study of the effectiveness of such programs ever since. Demographic changes have caught up with much of what the Democrats have delivered in the 20th Century. It's been easy to see this coming and the time for kicking the can down the road is just about over.

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