The biggest winner of the first presidential debate appears to be Big Bird, the iconic Sesame Street character who got a three-second mention on Wednesday night. As it turns out, Big Bird could teach the candidates a valuable life lesson.
According to Big Bird’s wiki (yes, he has a wiki), the character’s favorite saying is, “Asking questions is a good way of finding things out!"
And given the current political discourse, a few more questions from the candidates could do voters a lot more good than harm, when it comes to checking their statements.
Mitt Romney’s mention of the beloved Muppet isn’t the first time Big Bird’s name has popped up in an argument over public broadcasting funding. But this time, the mention went viral on Facebook and Twitter.
The phrase “Big Bird” was appearing 17,000 times every minute on Twitter. At midnight, CNN reported that mentions of Big Bird on Facebook were up an astronomical 800,000%.
Facebook later said Big Bird was the fourth most-mentioned topic on Facebook during the debate, getting more attention than topics like jobs, taxes, Jim Lehrer and Obamacare.
Romney briefly mentioned the big yellow one in a debate segment about cutting congressional funding for PBS when he told Jim Lehrer, Big Bird’s fellow PBS employee, that he couldn’t justify spending taxpayer money on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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"I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS ... I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too, but I'm not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it,” Romney said.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama used an afternoon press conference to add his own thoughts on Big Bird.
"Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird!" Obama said, "We didn't know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit."
The debate between Democrats and Republicans over PBS and the CPB has a long history.
Last month, Romney told Fortune magazine, in an interview, pretty much the same thing he mentioned on Wednesday night.
“Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money,” Romney said.
The trade journal Radio and Television Report said that Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, had a few choice words in August for Romney that mentioned the yellow icon.
“A Ryan-Romney ticket buys admission to a budget match-up where Big Oil wins and Big Bird loses,” Markey said. “Congressman Ryan’s budgets protect $40 billion in subsidies for the most profitable oil companies on the planet but would put an end to Elmo’s World.”
As for the producers of Sesame Street, they chose to mostly stay out of the debate controversy.
TMZ reported that Sesame Street released a statement, including the one fact the candidates (and most of America) agree on: everyone loves Big Bird.
"Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization. We do not comment on campaigns, but we're happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird."
Also on Thursday, Sesame Workshop executive vice president Sherrie Westin told CNN that Big Bird isn’t going anywhere, since the Workshop receives little PBS funding.
Don’t expect Big Bird to become an enduring factor in the next five weeks as the presidential election comes to its conclusion.
The character is apolitical. We did a little online research on Big Bird, and the Golden Condor did pose for a picture in 1969 with Pat Nixon at the White House, which was the year “Sesame Street” first appeared on TV.
And Big Bird also made a guest appearance on “The West Wing” in 2004, playing itself in a scene with Allison Janney.
So while Big Bird has enjoyed celebrity for six decades and has outlasted eight presidents, it doesn’t seem like a White House run is in Big Bird’s future, with Mr. Snuffleupagus as a running mate.