The New Political Battleground: Big Bird


By Pam Martens: October 5, 2012

What happened to the party of a “thousand points of light” and a “kinder, gentler nation”?  Who ever thought we’d yearn for the days of George H.W. Bush? 

First it was Newt Gingrich on the stump last November calling child labor laws “truly stupid.”  Now it’s the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, promising in his first Presidential debate to kill Federal funding to PBS and put Big Bird, whose Sesame Street program airs on that station, on the endangered species list.

Gingrich made his remarks at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, stating:

“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, in child laws, which are truly stupid.”  Gingrich goes on to add: “I tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they’d have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising. Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday.”  (Watch the video of Gingrich’s comments here.)

The lack of child labor laws led to horrific sweatshops across America in the early 1900s, culminating in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in lower Manhattan on March 25, 1911, where young girls plunged to their death from upper stories, ablaze in flames. There were 146 deaths among the garment workers, including many girls under the age of 18. The loss of so many lives was alleged to have been caused by the factory owners locking the exit doors to prevent the young girls from taking breaks.  The inhumane conditions under which children and immigrants labored in sweatshops became a national focus as a result of this fire, eventually leading to the enactment of child labor laws, which were viciously fought by corporate interests.

Romney’s comments regarding gutting funding to PBS set off a wild volley of tweets and Facebook memes.  Twitter reported 17,000 tweets per second.  The comments continue to draw outrage today and multiple petitions to “Save Big Bird” have sprung up at

Evan Sutton of Rockville, Maryland has launched a petition which reads in part:

“Big Bird isn’t just a big, yellow bird. Every day, millions of children — including my two sons and my daughter — tune in to PBS. What they get is programming that teaches them. They learn their letters and numbers, yes. But they also learn about character. About treating one another with dignity and kindness. They learn that it’s OK to be different, and to stand up for their friends… Cutting PBS won’t help America, Mr. Romney. I stand with Big Bird. I’m tired of conservatives suggesting that our budget problems can be solved by taking away public broadcasting in one breath, and that we can afford trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy in the next. PBS costs Americans roughly $26 million per year. Meanwhile it’s estimated that your policies would save billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson nearly $2 billion dollars. Surely we can do better.

“Stop demonizing PBS and tiny programs that amount to less than one 1/100th of 1% of the budget, and explain to us exactly how your plans solve the real issues, like our imbalanced tax code, our bloated military budget, and corporate welfare.

“Mr. Romney, I stand with Big Bird.” 

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