Ruth Ann Dailey: Lots to shrink, from Secret Service to CPB
March 20, 2017 12:00 AM
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Copies of President Donald Trump's first budget are displayed at the Government Printing Office Thursday in Washington.
By Ruth Ann Dailey
These days, as the nation struggles with weighty conflicts, it’s good that we can always count on social media for deep, relevant insights and sober analysis.
Why else would the 1969 video of Fred Rogers pleading for Congress to support quality children’s television go viral in response to President Donald Trump’s lean, mean 2018 budget? As if the media landscape had not changed in five decades.
Also viral is a claim that security costs for Melania Trump to continue living in New York City are double the annual appropriation for the National Endowment for the Arts, which her husband proposes to eliminate.
The est. security cost for Melania living 200mi away from Trump is double the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts.
It’s hard to see the relevance of a pre-cable, pre-video, pre-DVD assessment of television or to understand a Twitter-based budget negotiation, but both the security and budget issues do intersect profoundly with the populist wave that Mr. Trump rode to the White House.
And I believe that he, self-proclaimed champion of the common man, is nonetheless wrong on both.
The first family’s security costs are a serious issue. They make a mockery of Mr. Trump’s populism. He isn’t quite as big a hypocrite as the posers who take private jets to think-green conferences where they decide how the rest of us will shrink our carbon footprint, but the president’s excessive security costs disrespect the disrespected, forgotten middle class he purports to represent.
For the sake of authenticity — and Joe Taxpayer’s wallet — the Trumps need to shrink their security footprint.
It was Joe Taxpayer’s children whom Fred Rogers was concerned about in 1969. He urged Congress to counter the “animated bombardment” of network programming with public television’s thoughtful treatment of “the inner drama of childhood.”
“I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing,” he told Congress.
Good citizens still worry. That hasn’t changed since 1969, but what has changed is the dramatic expansion of quality television and entertainment options available on an ever-greater number of platforms for people of all ages and means. Technology has made taxpayer-supported television a dinosaur.
A far more daunting task lies in considering funds for the “high arts” — the most transcendent music, theater and visual objects our culture has produced. These art forms are live events or unique objects that cannot be broadcast easily, or at all. Yet funding for public television has far outstripped funding for, among others, the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1970, the NEA budget was $9.05 million. Just to keep up with the rampant inflation of the 1970s, that $9 million would have had to become $20 million by 1980. Instead, it ballooned to $154.6 million.
Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting followed much the same trajectory — from $15 million in 1970 to $152 million in 1980. But while the NEA budget was cut nearly in half in the mid-1990s and has never regained its pre-slash levels, CPB allocations have marched steadily upward, even as cable and subscription networks have flourished.
Here’s the populist angle. Television — the lower-brow of all these entertainment options and only rarely an “art” form — enjoys lavish and unnecessary funding, while the high arts languish.
Maybe cutting the NEA was an easier call in the 1990s after high-profile controversies over the works of artists such as Andres Serrano (“Piss Christ”) and Robert Mapplethorpe (oh, everything). Some elitists don’t understand that if you poke people in the eye often enough, they’ll eventually poke back.
The father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr., would be rolling in his grave. It was in the 1980s I encountered his argument that our government should support the “monuments” of our culture — just as it supports those carved from stone or cast in bronze — and he persuaded me forever.
I once received a small stipend from the local PBS station for a current-events talk show, and my husband’s symphony job puts food on our table now. We understand very well what’s at stake. But we are taxpayers, too.
Although the Constitution indicates (logically) that national defense is the federal government’s highest priority, in practice it is a “discretionary” expenditure — as are the arts, high-brow and low.
President Trump’s budget proposal should galvanize a difficult, detailed conversation about what truly deserves our support. We must cut the unnecessary. He should lead by example in the security department.
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