Friday, January 30, 2004
Ocean-front Property in Arizona
It's just too good to be true: I actually think that President Bush is serious about his proposed $15 - 20 M boost to the NEA. It's not a terrible decision, really—for pennies he can do something to distance himself from the caustic image of Jesse Helms trotting out Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano as enemies of the state. Much as people don't like Mapplethorpe, it became apparent that they didn't like Gingrich's way of doing things much better. (When sex was finally, actually a problem for the government, NG couldn't make it stick.)

And since Mapplethorpe is in no way representative of most NEA grant recipients—the majority of them are arts-development organizations, not individuals—Bush doesn't have to stretch to convey this as, well, compassionate conservatism. Polls like this one conducted way up in the Twin Cities show that people overwhelmingly acknowledge performing arts to be culturally invaluable—but there is some hesitation when asked about (generic) government subsidization of the arts. (I blame Helms and a spoiled economy for that.) Bush could get such thinkers to turn on their heels if he can advertise a totally applaudable effort for something along the lines of 38 cents per American per year which also cools the culture wars a degree or two. (That figure is from 1997 funding—add a dime or two.) At least, I imagine that's what the thinking is.

I see that Matthew Ygelsias supports the move but thinks that a better solution would be a federalist approach: Local communities essentially paying for local art. I think he betrays the misconception that NEA grants fund artists—overwhelmingly they're directed toward non-profit arts organizations. These development groups aren't necessarily tied to a single community, so assessing them based on their specific community impact isn't a clean cut matter. Politically speaking, of course, what MY says registers, and I think it's up to communities to make their own investments in art. That's just not what the NEA principally does.

Are Democrats letting Republicans take up art of all things as a pet issue? Doesn't sound like it: For one, Democrats are actively signing pledges from arts-advocacy groups like the American Arts Alliance to, well, advocate the arts; Clark and Edwards in particular have been vocal about supporting non-profit arts. Second, Bush's NEA support really pisses off Republicans, who don't mind putting half a trillion bucks toward a stillborn healthcare bill but won't spend a dime on a measure a lot of people seem to support. Conservatives think he's selling out to... liberals? No surprise they're pissed, I guess—this is after all the first Bush policy I endorse 100%.

I only wish I had some confirmation that my tax dollars supported Mapplethorpe and Serrano.