Romney's "Big Bird" Line Was Not a Gaffe

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 4 2012 4:23 PM

Romney's "Big Bird" Line Was Not a Gaffe

I love me some Glenn Thrush and Jennifer Epstein, but a line does not become a "gaffe" because a rival campaign decides it is. Case in point:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

In both speeches, Obama seized on the one gaffe committed by Romney during an otherwise commanding performance: Romney’s awkward joke about cutting funding for PBS. Asked how he would cut the deficit, Romney said he would end the federal government’s support for PBS. Then, he joked to moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS: “I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you, too.”

Maybe the joke didn't kill, but Romney has said this many times. I was in the room one of those times, on February 25, when Romney spoke to a Republican breakfast in Lansing, Michigan. Feeling at home, rising in the polls, he started in on his riff about supporting programs only if they're worth "borrowing money from China" to pay for. "We send money every year to pay for PBS so they don’t have to have advertising on Sesame Street," he said. "I like Sesame Street, but I’m willing to have Big Bird look at Corn Flakes from time to time."

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The "borrowing money from China" riff is kind of like an lazy susan -- you can put anything on it and spin. What I found notable in Denver was that Romney mentioned PBS, of all the "wasteful" items he sometimes cycles in. Notice what he focused on when he spoke to Americans for Prosperity 11 months ago.

I like Amtrak, but I’m not willing to borrow $1.6 billion a year to subsidize it. I like the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but I refuse to borrow almost $1 billion a year from China to pay for them.
And then there’s foreign aid. Did you know that we give $27 million a year in foreign aid to China? I will stop sending money to any country that can take care of itself. And no foreign aid will go to countries that oppose American interests.
We spend $300 million a year on groups like Planned Parenthood, which provide abortions or abortion-related services. It’s long past time for that to be over.

Romney skipped foreign aid, the NEA, and Planned Parenthood.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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