Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ELIMINATE THE NEA?....Looking for a symbolic way of demonstrating that Democrats share some of those all-important red state values we've heard about so much for the past two weeks? Jon Chait says today that while compromises on abortion and gay rights might be off the table, what about the National Endowment for the Arts?

The NEA is a major stick in the eye to the, um, culturally traditional. (I was going to write "guys named Jethro who own pickup trucks" but I'm trying not to inflame cultural sensitivities here.) In the past, the NEA has provoked enormous controversy by funding artists such as Andres Serrano, whose artworks include a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine. Two years ago, the NEA helped support a group that put on "Broadway Bares XII," an AIDS fundraiser featuring nude performers. And even though the overwhelming majority of its projects aren't controversial, let's face it, the NEA is in large part a way of forcing the NASCAR set to subsidize the art house set.

[blah blah blah, art gets plenty of private funding already, it forces the feds into a censorship role, etc. etc.]

In that way, arts subsidies aren't much different than farm subsidies. The main difference, other than scale, is that arts subsidies go to a constituency that Democrats can afford to no, make that desperately need to offend.

I don't get it. I actually agree with Chait, and I'd throw in a few other items, like NPR and Amtrak, things that the free market is capable of supporting perfectly well. (Did you know, for example, that Congress continues to support long-haul Amtrak routes largely because Amtrak provides jobs in their districts? And does anyone think that market failures have produced a shortage of radio and TV channels in this country?)

But as a strategy for Democrats, what exactly is this supposed to accomplish? A wedge issue is something that forces the opposition party to make a difficult choice, but in this case it would be easy: if Democrats were on board too, Republicans would almost unanimously and gleefully vote to eliminate NEA. It wouldn't hurt them a bit. And I'd venture to say that not one single Democrat would pick up one single red vote for having championed this.

So what's the point?

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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