“Kill the NEA”? With GOP Eyeing Big Cuts, Will It Happen?


You won’t be happy with what I’m writing in this post.

Even before the Republican Party takes over the House of Representatives with their biggest majority since Herbert Hoover’s shirt collars crushed his Adam’s apple, let me be clear:

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I told you so.

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What I mean — and what I fear — is that the Republicans will try to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. At the very least, I hear they’re going to try to gut it. I warned about this in 2009 and again in 2010. If and when it happens:

I told you so. Mark my words.

Now, any brain-dead human being can tell you that the NEA’s annual budget of roughly $161 million is never going to lower the federal deficit, which currently tops $1 trillion. Yet the GOP will actually have to do something new for them in the next Congress: govern. And with the teabagger crazies nipping at their country-club heels, they’ll immediately start pushing for $100 billion in cuts — or else risk the fury of their fulsome radical-right allies.

The $100 billion figure makes for a tasty soundbite, which is why we’re hearing it more and more. My guess is the GOP leadership-in-waiting, once installed, will ride herd on that number like a mechanical bull. Which is, of course, the right metaphor for a party that won’t outline in mathematically legitimate ways how to balance the federal budget after they blow a huge, multi-trillion-dollar hole in it, thanks to extending all those unfunded Bush-era tax cuts.

I know that’s rhetoric.

I know Republicans and Democrats use different math — that 2 + 2 = whatever Americans want to hear.

I know the people spoke. And, indeed, now they’ll face the consequences.

And one of those consequences may be that, in order to build up chits with the radical-right (and the evangelicals), the GOP may restructure, defund or otherwise denude the NEA.

Let me put it to you this way: to presume that absolutely no action will be taken regarding the NEA budget seems a bit foolhardy to me. Why wouldn’t they try? Shouldn’t the advocacy community plan for it — and hope for the best?

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What worries me so deeply, meanwhile, is that so many foot soldiers are exhausted.

For example, on the Sticks and Drones blog, one recent headline was so blunt that it startled me:

“Kill the NEA!”

Wow. Although that isn’t exactly what the writer is saying:

[The NEA is] a whipping post for a rabid minority in this country who fear freedom of expression and believe to their core that government should not be supporting artistic expression, let alone any subgroup of the population who tend to lean towards the political left…. The problem is that we have much bigger problems than the NEA and I, for one, am damn tired of these “politicians” using it as a whipping post to hide the fact that they haven’t the first clue what to do once they grab the reins of power. So kill the NEA.

For Bill Eddins, author of the post and music director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ay?), it’s almost as if, by dint of counterproductive reasoning, he hopes to galvanize the community into preemptive action.

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Here he writes about health care for musicians:

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…I guarantee you that the rest of your colleagues out there are struggling to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars just to have the privilege to have access to a health care provider. If they don’t have a full-time faculty job then it’s out of pocket. …That’s more important than the NEA.

Here he assails the self-absorption and narcissism of theater professionals:

…How many record years of temperatures, how many colossal oil spills, how many freak storms and upside-down weather patterns will it take to make you realize that we have a much bigger problem than the staging in Act 2, Scene 3 of The Scottish Play? …That’s more important than the NEA.

Here he lays bare the shallowness of visual artists:

…The solution, according to those just elected, is to give your Social Security to the people who caused the biggest financial disaster this side of the Great Depression. …That’s more important than the NEA.

Eddins’ point, and it’s a provocative one, is that perhaps there are bigger fish to fry than federal support for the arts. Is it worth falling on our collective swords over $161 million, he asks, when the rest of the nation, the rest of the world, is going to pot — when the Boston Symphony’s endowment is “over twice the amount of the NEA’s current fiscal budget”? Is it worth it when this year’s defense budget is $660 billion? Is it worth it when “mandatory spending” on the likes of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and interest on the national debt is $1.5 trillion?

My advice is to read Eddins’ post several times, paying special attention to the comments piling up. The people writing the comments are right, too. Does it matter whether you’re right, though, when your government is right-wing? While we’re at it — and this is my real point — who will stand up for what’s right if there must be a fight? Who is really ready?

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