Alert! The much-loved Big Bird is under attack by none other than this year’s U.S. presidential candidates. Oh, poor bird!
I feel sorry that Big Bird cannot escape the same rhetorical fate as China — which has become an American political campaign target. In the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney apologized to Big Bird after realizing he’d said something offensive to the moderator Jim Lehrer, in regard to his remark on stopping the federal subsidy to Public Broadcasting Service. He said, “I like PBS. I love Big Bird.” But does he really?
The following day, President Obama used Big Bird as a metaphor to deride his contender. Then Mitt Romney retorted, “Obama is spending time saving Big Bird. I am spending my time saving jobs.” The dispute went on and on like a schoolyard squabble.
This is my first time living in America during a presidential election year. The political atmosphere in this country is definitely heavier than I’d imagined. When I was in China, I heard a lot about the American presidential campaign. Young people like me look forward to the debates as a way to learn English. Above all, we carry the hope that someday public debates among top officials will be held in China. Most Chinese have a positive attitude about American politics.
Now I feel differently. American politicians talk way more than Chinese leaders. Perhaps because freedom of speech is what this country advocates and is built on, public figures like politicians seem to say whatever comes to mind without considering the feelings of their listeners. In the case of Big Bird, I would have never thought of a universal character loved by millions of children around the world would be dragged into the black hole of political spin.
When Republicans and Democrats both throw out campaign ads, slamming the opponent’s policy on China, I am resentful. This is American politicians’ rhetoric: when in good times, China is your friend; when in bad times, China is your foe. But Sino-U.S. relations are never regarded as chest to chest as is, for instance, the Japan-U.S. alliance. Suspicion always grows on both sides. But it’s not my position to judge the bilateral relation of both countries. My fury about the campaign ads is based no more than on Big Bird being attacked. I grew up watching Sesame Street in China. Why should a pure and lovable character in a children’s TV show turn into a bombshell in the adults’ world?