Are Artists, Arts Advocates and Arts Groups Ready for the GOP Takedown of the NEA?

Which elephant deserves to be poached? Not this one.

Arts CutsIn posts earlier this year as information on the $50 million in extra stimulus funding for the National Endowment for the Arts came to light, I warned that the long-term question of how we fund the arts, be it publicly or privately or both, remain unaddressed. In direct terms, I accused our leading arts advocates of not thinking beyond the short-term crisis. If we accustom nonprofit arts groups to the idea that the election of Barack Obama and of large Democratic Congressional majorities means not just federal arts funding increases but consistent increases in years ahead, will they not be vulnerable when the Republicans retake Congress and start cutting, or when their seemingly inevitable assault on the NEA begins?

The NEA scandal, covered on The Clyde Fitch Report and many other excellent blogs, is now metastasizing to such a degree that it could well force an answer to my question. This post in the Los Angeles Times, dated Sept. 25, reveals that a posse of 10 Republican Senators are now getting into the act:

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….Questions from elected officials about whether the NEA was being politicized followed. First, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) sent an open letter to the president, raising concerns that the NEA had become subject to “political manipulation by the White House,” and proposing congressional hearings.

He has now has been joined by all ten GOP members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. On Wednesday they signed the letter to Landesman, the NEA chairman, calling for a more detailed explanation of the teleconference. They also want assurances that it did not violate laws prohibiting federal agencies from spending tax dollars for political causes, and that ban employees from engaging in partisan politics while on the job.

Signing were Republican senators Mike Enzi (right) of Wyoming, the committee’s ranking GOP member, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Roberts of Kansas.

There can be no doubt that despite the stupidity of the situation — no rational court, no rational jury, would find that the Obama Administration willfully, knowingly and with avarice and malice used the NEA for political purposes — the Republicans smell blood in the water and are beginning to circle.

Patrick Courrielche, for whom the now-dismissed NEA spokesperson Yosi Sergant who used to work, unquestionably has a vendetta against Sergant, and more and more has been revealing himself as a right-wing mole and shill. He also has a few problems of his own, according to the L.A. Times:

….In an article on the Huffington Post, writer Lisa Derrick suggested that he broke laws in various states against recording telephone conversations without the other parties’ permission.

Under the California Penal Code, Section 632, it is a criminal violation, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine, to record a “confidential communication” over the telephone, “without the consent of all parties.”

However, the state law has a broad exception: it is not illegal to record at “a public gathering or in any legislative, judicial, executive or administrative proceeding open to the public, or in any other circumstance in which the parties…may reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded.”

On his blog, Courrielche issued a statement Thursday saying that since invitations to the teleconference went out nationally, including to some media outlets, and because it was organized by federal agencies, “there was no expectation of confidentiality or that the call would not be recorded.”

This is Linda Tripp territory and insofar as being Linda Tripp territory, poses a very slippery slope for arts advocates. Frankly, my advice is not to focus on Courrielche so much as the 10 U.S. senators, and watch for a group of especially radical right-wing House members to begin clamoring for hearings. They won’t get far, but now the elimination of the NEA — and the demonization of American artists — is rising fast on the GOP agenda. So I ask you: To what degree are artists, arts advocates and arts organizations prepared for the fight when it comes?

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