In an interview on Sean Hannity’s hour of hatefulness on Fox News (dated March 10, 2011), former Alaskan Governor, failed Vice-Presidential candidate and prolific distributor of WTF Sarah Palin took a dig at National Public Radio and the National Endowment for the Arts that not only showed the continued conservative bias against everything beautiful and good in this world, but also the narrow scope of the Republican party line on saving money. Yes, I know I’m about three and a half months late on this, but it just recently came to my attention, and it affords me an opportunity to a) bitch about an issue that never stops grating on me like broccoli between my teeth and b) bash Sarah Palin, which never gets old.
So you don’t have to wade through the whole hateful transcript (though it’s worth it for the gem where Palin admonishes Michael Moore for “…contributing to that rhetoric [about the union rights battle in Wisconsin] and causing more problems”, and drops one of those pearls of irony that she’s so beloved for: “If he could just help to turn down the volume, deal in truth, deal in reality.[sic]”) here’s the quote that set my blood pressure boiling:
NPR, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, all those kind of frivolous things that government shouldn’t be in the business of funding with tax dollars — those should all be on the chopping block as we talk about the $14 trillion debt that we’re going to hand to our kids and our grandkids. Yes, those are the type of things that for more than one reason need to be cut.
FULL DISCLOSURE: What paltry living I make, I make in the arts. And I listen to NPR religiously. So feel free to use that to discredit my opinions as you desire.
I just want to touch on NPR for a brief moment, though it’s really not the focus of what I want to write about here. There are two kinds of people who don’t listen to NPR: the willfully uninformed and hardline conservatives. Which is to say, there is one kind of people who don’t listen to NPR. When I hear someone like Glenn Beck or Andrew Breitbart shoot off their mouths about how biased NPR is, all I hear is “they’re not presenting the lies that I spread in the way that I want BOO HOO FUCKING HOO!!1!” Yeah, they botched the Juan Williams thing, but no other news outlet in America covers the breadth of stories that NPR does with the depth and fairness that NPR does. No other. Period. So fucking lay off, already.
Ok, though math and I are life-long enemies, let’s look at the numbers. I couldn’t find an exact figure for how much NPR contributes to the national debt, largely because NPR itself receives no funding from the federal government. Instead, money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which also funds PBS and a variety of other things) goes to individual NPR stations, which is then used to, among other things, purchase programming from NPR national. So let’s do a broad stroke: CPB’s FY2013 federal funding is currently slated at $460 million. This number is, of course, not set yet because Congress can’t be bothered to interrupt their pissing contest long enough to pass a fucking budget, and there’s a strong lobby in the house to cut that funding drastically, if not altogether. The best estimate we currently have for what the deficit will be in FY2012 is $1.64 trillion. So if you cut the entirety of CPB funding from the budget, you would recoup approximately 0.03% of the deficit. This is just the deficit mind you, not the federal budget. The NEA’s $161 million budget would save you another .001% of the deficit. By contrast, a single F-22 fighter jet costs approximately $361 million. The United States has purchased 168 of them since 2005, at a total cost of about $71.5 billion, or about 4.36% of the deficit. Now of course I wouldn’t advocate leaving the country totally defenseless by not buying a fleet of airplanes that are orders of magnitude more advanced than anything a potential enemy – meaning, of course, the terrorists whose most devastating weapon is currently strapping a bomb to their chest and running into a public building – has, but if we’re talking about sheer percentage of the deficit, I think you know who wins. In fact, here’s a fun comparison: using the current budgets for the CPB and NEA (which are both higher than they were in 2005), if you calculated what those programs have cost in the same amount of time it comes out to about $4.35 billion, which is approximately 6% of the cost of the F-22s, or about ten airplanes. So it’s pretty clear what the big money suck is here.
But ok, fine, defense is important, right? So much so that we have to spend almost six times what the next best-funded military on the planet spends, right? And the arts are “frivolous”, contributing nothing to our nation but a place for homosexuals to spend a Saturday night, right?
Not so. The arts in general, according to a recent study, generate $166.2 billion dollars a year in economic activity and result in $12.6 billion in federal taxes. That’s almost an 8000% return on the government’s investment. If some Wall Street douche – the kind that the government seems to love so much that they keep putting them in charge of everything – promised you that kind of return, he would be in one of those day spas where they put white collar criminals so fast his monocle would spin. And tip to the wise, Mr. Madhoff, “golden parachute” means something completely different on the inside.
The arts also provide the equivalent of 5.7 million full-time jobs. I might be listening to the wrong batch of pundits here (not that there’s a right batch of pundits, of course) but I thought jobs were one of those things that you were supposed to be in favor of creating. I mean, it seems like every time I turn around some asshole is bitching about the lack of jobs.
Of course the NEA isn’t the sole means of support for the arts in America, but it is a crucial lynchpin. Private donations make up the majority of arts funding, but those private donors look to the security of NEA grants when they decide whether or not to put their money into a non-profit. Without the guarantee of federal money, many non-profits would have no reliable income at all as donors can choose to pull their money any time for any reason. And people who have the money to give to an arts organization are generally not stupid people – they want to be sure that the group they donate to will be around as long as possible. I’ve seen it first-hand: when the future of a company looks bleak, donations dry up. The promise of NEA grants helps stabilize finances for companies, which in turn makes them a safer investment for private and corporate donations.
Every major civilization since the dawn of time has publicly funded art. Every one. Sarah Palin, do you want the United States to fall behind Assyria in the culture wars? What about the intangible benefits of art? Your fucking fighter planes, your $233 million “bridge to nowhere” (oh yeah, you thought we’d forgotten about that, didn’t you?) and even your shitty and partially publicly-funded reality show will be gone in a hundred years or less, but many of the works of art that the NEA funding produces will live on, and will certainly reflect better on us as a nation than 99% of the dreadful shit we spend our federal money on.
So sure, if you want a quick fix to shave a hefty .031% off of the federal deficit and at the same time take a crack at the evil things liberals love most like information and enrichment, by all means defund the CPB and the NEA. God knows, someone will figure out a way to make a fortune in government subsidies importing our art and culture from China, where it can be produced in sweatshops at a fraction of the cost. And hey, if the cultural legacy of the great United States of America is reduced to Two and a Half Men and about a million fucking hours of d-list celebrities dancing, then let history judge us as it may.
On the other hand, Governor Palin (can I still call you Governor if you resigned before your first term was finished? Seems little like calling someone marathon runner when they gave up after the first few miles) you could do what a sensible person does before they let something vile and idiotic come spewing out of their mouth: shut the fuck up.