Big Bird. Mr. Potato Head. Dr. Seuss.
This is not a list of potential Christmas gifts for your young child—it’s a list of things Republicans have gotten very publicly worked up about over the past year. And the reason they’ve gotten so worked up about those things is obvious: to create a distraction from the things Democrats are talking about. Like infrastructure. Voting rights. An expanded child tax credit. Paid family leave.
Republicans keep doing this because it works for them. When Dr. Seuss’ estate announced it would stop publishing six of the children’s author’s books because of their overt racism, one poll found that more Republicans had heard "a lot" about Dr. Seuss than about the House passing the American Rescue Plan, with its $1,400 direct payments to most people and expanded child tax credit that has gone on to dramatically reduce child poverty.
So when Sen. Ted Cruz attacks Big Bird for tweeting about getting his COVID-19 vaccination now that children aged 5 to 11—an age range that canonically includes Big Bird—are allowed to be vaccinated, he knows what he’s doing. It’s a practiced move fully intended not just to cement the Republican opposition to public health and politicize a lifesaving vaccine, but to distract from the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill he voted against and from Democratic efforts to pass a series of other very popular policies to help U.S. families and workers and in particular children.
That’s why Cruz isn’t the only one. He’s been joined in attacking Big Bird’s vaccination by a series of right-wing media personalities and attention-seekers, including Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who really went for maximum notoriety by tweeting: “Big Bird is a communist.”
This is a ploy. Republicans stir up anger about something extremely minor, but involving children’s culture and some form of progress that Republicans are fighting—although in this case, it’s not even anything new, since Big Bird was shown getting a vaccination all the way back in 1972—and count on their base to get emotionally involved. The same people who love to scream about liberal tears and fragile snowflakes are depending on blind rage about children’s books and TV shows and toys to get themselves electoral advantage.
Meanwhile, Democrats struggle to get media attention on things like an expanded child tax credit that reduced child poverty by 29% almost immediately upon going into effect. Even when CNN covers the financial struggles of a family that is benefitting from the child tax credit, the network doesn't mention it. We’re talking about children being fed and clothed adequately who were not before, but also struggling families getting to take their first beach weekend in years or sign their kids up for the extracurricular activities their classmates have gotten to do all along. Real changes in children’s lives that will make a lifelong difference to their health and educational outcomes and are bringing joy now, and Republicans are controlling the media story with whining about Big Bird getting vaccinated and Mr. Potato Head becoming do-what-you-want-with-it Potato Head and six Dr. Seuss books that few people were reading anyway ceasing to be published because of their really nasty racism.
Democrats are doing the work. They’re not always doing it as effectively as we might wish, for sure. They’re struggling to get around every single Republican and a small handful of their own who are committed to blocking anything that might strengthen U.S. workers or struggling families or fight climate change. But they’re trying. Republicans are showboating in an effort to distract, and the substance of their showboating distractions, time and time again, boils down to “asshole and proud of it.” That’s it. That’s what Republicans want to govern on. Tax cuts for the wealthiest and just plain being an asshole. Truly these are the worst people on earth. And yes, they’re proud of it.