Domestic Policies

Make America Great? Promote the Arts and Culture.

Had enough yet? Of course not. And it’s still February.

If the press conference wasn’t proof enough that the president still doesn’t have a handle on his facts, then let’s move on to those things that do not lie: the numbers.

Yes, it’s almost time for the president to issue a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, that starts in October, and word is that it’s going to include the GOP’s greatest hits. That means that social programs will of course be on the chopping or reforming block, such as Medicare and Medicaid, programs that actually do a great deal of great for their intended beneficiaries, while we are in for a massive infusion of money to the military because, well, we need a huge amount of new weapons to fight, well, ISIS? Russia? China? I’m not quite sure. I guess maybe after being at war for 16 years, many of our weapons have been used and we need new ones? We’ll come back to that one.

Some of the other cuts on the Republican wish list are oldies but goodies from the 1980s Reagan Revolution.  They include drug treatment programs and the Export-Import Bank, but the program cuts that really show where the right’s priorities are will fall on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. That these programs account for maybe a few hundred million dollars in a $4 trillion dollar budget doesn’t seem to matter. They will be on the chopping block no matter what that says about the ruling party’s priorities.

The CPB, the NEA and the NEH, quite simply, bring a certain level of calm, thoughtfulness, pragmatism, knowledge, intelligence and, yes, democracy, to the country. So naturally you can see why the right would want to get rid of them. Chaos and unpredictability are in. Sober-minded analysis is definitely out. But ever since Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano and “Tales of the City” made their way into the consciousness of the party of morality, they have tried to demonize publicly funded culture as elitist and leftist, arguing that if television programs and art exhibits can’t pay their own way, then they should be thrown onto the bonfire of the inanities.

A country that loses its culture is in more trouble than one that loses a war. And some culture will always need public support. Artists cannot always get exhibition space on their own and some television programs are worth seeing even if they can’t attract sponsors. The public benefits from programming and exhibits that supports new and vibrant artistic voices in areas of the country that might want or need to see different perspectives. This is what makes our country great. Democratizing culture serves everyone. And if you don’t like it, turn it off.

Even more damaging would be cuts to or elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is where the United States shows its commitment to learning, academic research, and school programs that encourage people to read poetry and great literature, and to involve themselves in timeless and timely ideas that might not see the light of day without this support.

The NEH sponsors educational institutes for school and college teachers in areas that allow for significant pedagogical growth across the education establishment. Thousands of teachers, including me, have spent wonderful summers researching, studying, arguing, observing and learning something that they never would have learned without these programs. The NEH provides a lifeline to teachers and students and makes our schools richer in every way. Why would anyone want to cut that?

It would be terrible for this country to lose its creative could in order to save a pittance. We can’t afford not no have these programs. And once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.

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