"C" is for "Cease and Desist"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 9 2012 12:31 PM

"C" is for "Cease and Desist"

That dumb Obama campaign ad that I posted this morning? Sesame Street Workshop doesn't want it airing anywhere, including on your Internet.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down.

There goes three or four hours of the news cycle; thereby an Obama campaign line of attack, silly as it was, gets muddled. But what was the point of the attack, anyway? This was the deleted ad's script.

Bernie Madoff. Ken Lay. Dennis Kozlowski. Criminals. Gluttons of greed. And the evil genius who towered over them? One man has the guts to speak his name. Big Bird.

There followed clips of Romney saying the name of the beloved character, as if to summon him like Candyman. "Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about," said the narrator. "It’s Sesame Street."

Didn't this muddle the message, the reason why the Obama campaign (and, to be fair, actual humans) seized on the Big Bird remark? It wasn't a gaffe. It was a statement that Romney had made many times. He'd start to mention government programs that would be on the Romney-Ryan chopping block, and lead with PBS. It was a distraction -- and a very smart one. PBS's government check makes up less than one-thousandth of one-percent of discretionary spending. Voters don't know that. In a 2011 CNN poll, taken during the debate over cutting these funds, only 27 percent of voters knew that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting pulled less than 1 percent of the federal budget. A full 7 percent of voters thought it got more than half of the budget. At the debate, Romney repeatedly promised to start balancing the budget despite gigantic tax cuts and spending increases, but the only specific cuts he offered were Obamacare and PBS. I liked the way Matt Taibbi summed up Romney's answer: "I'll cut PBS, which is about one millionth of the federal budget, and some other stuff."

That's the reason that Obama et al latched onto this after the debate. It's about Romney's realism. It's also ridiculous.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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