Obama's Big Bird attack ad: fluffy, funny and ineffectual | Paul Harris

If Obama had the election sewn up, then mocking Romney's Sesame Street gambit might raise a smile. But he doesn't


President Barack Obama suddenly – and unexpectedly – has found himself on the ropes. After months of looking as though he was cruising to victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, his poor debate performance has him now searching for fresh attack lines. He needs something to stop the Romney advance, defend his own inept performance and remind America that they are supposed to despise Romney as an evil uncaring financier not see him as a potential new commander-in-chief.


What, then, can Obama's crack team of campaigners extract from the Denver debate debacle to use against their newly energised foe? The answer, obviously, is Big Bird.


The ad went out Tuesday morning. Kind of. The Obama campaign is not giving much away about the actual on-air use of this 30-second spot designed for TV. This is almost certainly because they are hoping it will go viral on the internet and get tons of free media. After all, the number of times Big Bird has previously become central to America's political discussion can be counted on the feathers of one wing.


Who knows: making this Big Bird ad go viral is one thing, but actually shelling out cash and putting it on air in the battlegrounds of Ohio, Florida and elsewhere … that might be a stretch.


The ad begins seriously enough. "Bernie Madoff. Ken Lay. Dennis Kozlowski. Criminals. Gluttons of greed," says the customary scary voice as portrait snaps of America's greatest corporate villains play across the screen. "And the evil genius who towered over them? One man has the guts to speak his name," the voice states as a silhouette hovers into view on the glassy side of a skyscraper. But hang on … that shadow does not look like any of the criminals. Or even Mitt Romney.

No, its a gigantic and beloved children's TV character from Sesame Street.

And here comes Mitt to denounce him. "Big bird," he says, during last week's debate. "Big Bird!" he repeats at an event in Iowa back last year. "Big Bird!" comes the third and final cry from a speech in Illinois last March. Who knew Big Bird had been such a campaign theme for the Republicans for so long?

Suddenly, the yellow fowl itself pops up. "It's me. Big Bird," it squawks. Now the ad can spell out its already heavily telegraphed point: that while Romney is keen on helping big banks deregulate again, he also wants to cut funding to public broadcasting. "I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS," Romney says. The ad ends with Big Bird going to sleep and the narrator stating: "Mitt Romney. Taking on our enemies, no matter where they nest."

The ad is meant to be funny, obviously. And it kind of is.

Romney's attack on PBS funding was a ridiculous piece of conservative theatre: highlight a tiny issue to distract people from bigger problems. PBS's slice of public funding is not the problem America faces right now. The prospect of deregulating Wall Street is.

But let's step back and look what both sides got out of that Denver debate. Romney got a reinvigorated campaign, a flood of good media and a generous bump in the polls. Obama got a Big Bird attack ad. If you are a Democrat, that's still not funny, no matter how you spin it.

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