First, there’s the matter of the numbers. The National Endowment for the Arts requested a budget of $149.849 million for fiscal year 2017, while the National Endowment for the Humanities asked for $149.848 million. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s funding for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 is $445 million annually.
And targeting the arts is a particularly contemptuous, deceptive gesture because the Republicans who periodically propose it often suggest that the only people who care about the arts are elitist coastal liberals who can pay for culture themselves if they care so darn much about it.
In other words, if the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting go away, those of us who live in big metropolitan areas on the coasts will probably be fine. There may be cuts, and big donors may dig deeper, but our arts institutions and public broadcasting stations will be less vulnerable. The people who would really be hurt by shuttering or privatizing these organizations would be voters who live outside of the coasts or college towns, which often have more vibrant arts communities thanks to the universities.
And you know what? Maybe Republican officials are fine with that. Maybe they don’t care about the arts personally, or the tourism revenue that can flow from a museum that has federal support, or the opportunity for kids in their district to get a glimpse of something that allows them to see the world in a new way. Maybe it’s just too much fun to tweak liberals or too painful to target corporate subsidies in a way that might make big donors cranky.
But if we’re going to have this idiotic conversation every time Congress takes a crack a passing a budget, I wish we could just admit that cutting federal support for the arts and humanities is a way to fight the culture war, not to tackle the federal debt. Anyone who suggests otherwise has marked themselves as lazy and cowardly.
Read more on Trump’s 2018 budget plan: