Friday, January 30, 2004

Bush Sniffs Glue and Approves NEA Budget Increase

This is not a headline from The Onion. I assure you.

George Bush has proposed an increase in the NEA’s budget? Wait. Are you sure that is not the N"R"A? Well, something must have happened to Mister Bush or his wife to make them so delirious. Did anyone check the kitchen for Al Queda operatives? They may have slipped the First Couple a mickey.

This makes great headlines for Bush as he saddles up for his ride into the dangerous campaign shootout awaiting him after the current Democratic battle royale has ended. But before performance artists start cracking open jars of peanut butter with which to smear their naked bodies in celebration, please read the newspaper articles in their entirety. This double-digit increase in budget, (which is providing a double-digit increase in blood pressure to such fiscal watchdog groups as the Cato Institute,) is being earmarked for an American Masterpieces program which will, in Bush’s words, “introduce Americans to the best of their cultural and artistic heritage. This program will sponsor presentations of great American works across all art forms.”

So don’t throw out the Starbuck’s aprons, or throw off the call center headsets just yet, because the legendary individual artist gravy train of the NEA won’t be rolling in anytime soon. And we better get used to spending Ivy Day in the committee room because Frank Skeffington lost the election a long time ago, and the Ward bosses died with him. Sure, I feel a little slighted now and then, feeling like I was a generation too late. I missed the time when the Sugar Daddy version of the NEA was parceling out bling bling left and right, and now I have to struggle through the demeaning and arduous process of finding enough people to support my artistic vision because it appeals to them. However, this long overdue boost in NEA funding will at least enable people to experience already proven works of art, but I just hope that the vetting process for those works is a little better than that of the current administration’s intelligence apparatus.

The Cato Institute, a think tank purporting to be a champion for the “proper role of government,” is, of course, outraged. They quickly shot out a press release detailing all of the fiscal problems that we need to deal with, and did everything short of call the President a “drunken sailor,” with regards to his worn cashbelt zippers. However, since their sole purpose in life is to write political press releases, those at the Cato Institute have mastered the art of ridiculous double-speech and so are careful to tread that razor thin line between their outright hostility and polite compliment. Witness this paragraph;

“Because art is so powerful, because it deals with such basic human truths, we dare not entangle it with coercive government power. That means no censorship or regulation of art. It also means no tax-funded subsidies for arts and artists, for when government gets into the arts funding business, we get political conflicts.”

Play a little game now and substitute the word “healthcare” for “art.” Hey, look at that! You have just written your first Cato Institute Press Release!

In fact, the elves at Cato are so original that they recycle the old The-Great-Artists-Never-Had-Government-Subsidies argument. Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz enlightens us with this original revelation: “The kinds of things financed by federal cultural agencies were produced long before those agencies were created, and they will continue to be produced long after those agencies are privatized or defunded.” Yaaawwwnnn. Well Mr. Boaz, most of the great books of the world were produced long before those agencies too, but I would hope you are not for the gutting of programs that support the public libraries which make sure they are available to the public. Then again…I don’t know you that well.

To be fair to Cato they are outraged at Bush’s spending all over the place, even a proposed bail-out of the United States Postal Service gets slammed. Something tells me that in their attempt to attract the deaf ears of the normally skinflinty Bushies, (who don’t seem to have any problem pouring tons of tax dollars into the Enron Like Iraq project,) they decided to kick the already beaten NEA. I can visualize the editorial meeting now…

“What can we do to attract the conservatives?”

“I know, lets flog the arts.”

“Yeah, everybody hates the arts.”

Seriously, though, they should realize that Bush is being conservative with this proposal, it is fulfilling one of the more important missions of the National Endowment of the Arts which is to make sure that art is more accessible to the public. And with the way the economy is going now I think that may be important in the near future.

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