National Endowment for the Arts

Think of the Children Before Scrapping the NEA, Says Mike Huckabee

The former Arkansas governor argues that federal subsidies for the arts are "essential," because creativity.

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The $148 million allocated to the National Endowment for the Arts is fiscally trivial in the context of a $4 trillion federal budget. By the same token, however, the NEA is culturally trivial, a point that Mike Huckabee inadvertently makes in a Washington Post op-ed piece urging Congress to preserve the program.

"The arts are a $730 billion industry," the former Arkansas governor writes, "representing 4.2 percent of our gross domestic product—more than transportation, tourism and agriculture. The nonprofit side of the arts alone generates $135 billion in economic activity, supporting 4.1 million jobs." The NEA's budget is barely a drop in those buckets, amounting to 0.02 percent of spending on the arts and 0.1 percent of the nonprofit sector. Yet Huckabee wants us to believe the NEA "is not expendable." To the contrary, "it is essential."

Huckabee asks us to think of the children—in particular, "the kids in poverty for whom NEA programs may be their only chance to learn to play an instrument, test-drive their God-given creativity and develop a passion for those things that civilize and humanize us all." He says "they're the reason we should stop and recognize that this line item accounting for just 0.004 percent of the federal budget is not what's breaking the bank." That tiny investment generates a big return, Huckabee suggests, because "participation in the arts leads to higher grade-point averages and SAT scores, as well as improvements in math skills and spatial reasoning." He takes the issue personally because his "early interest in music and the arts became a lifeline to an education and academic success."

Even if we accept Huckabee's claims at face value, he is presenting reasons why people might choose to financially support art and music education. He does not give us a single reason why they should be forced to do so. "Distilled to its essence," George Will noted last week in the same newspaper, "the argument for the NEA is: Art is a Good Thing, therefore a government subsidy for it is a Good Deed."

Conservatives are supposed to be skeptical of such arguments, and Huckabee claims to be a conservative. "If it seems unusual that a conservative Republican would advocate for music and the arts, don't be so surprised," he says, noting that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan supported the NEA.

Huckabee, who briefly sought the Republican presidential nomination last year before endorsing Donald Trump, is at pains to distinguish himself from "celebrity artists" who "insult and even threaten the president." But he sounds just like Robert Redford when he suggests that being an "advocate for music and the arts" means demanding that taxpayers subsidize them. Huckabee goes even further than Redford, conflating the NEA's budget with medical progress and economic dynamism as well as "the arts." After all, Huckabee says, "creativity finds cures for diseases, creates companies such as Apple and Microsoft and, above all, makes our culture more livable." And we get all that for a mere $148 million a year—pennies per person.

Huckabee's hucksterism illustrates a much broader and more fiscally significant problem, because threatening any item in the federal budget inspires similar snake-oil salesmanship, wrapping special pleading in the public interest. "If a program is a major expense," Will observes, "its spending generates so many dependent clients that legislators flinch from eliminating or even substantially trimming it. And if a program is, like the NEA, a minor expense, legislators wonder: Why take the trouble, and experience the pain (the NEA's affluent clients fluently articulate their grievances and sense of entitlement), for a trivial gain?"

A true fiscal conservative would be embarrassed to make an argument like Huckabee's. "I'm for cutting waste and killing worthless programs," he concludes. "I'm not for cutting and killing the hope and help that come from creativity." That's right: A vote against the NEA is a vote against hope.

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  1. If “the arts” (and I’m not at all clear what Huck’s including in that term) are so essential, why not throw a trillion dollars at it? An art in every pot!

    1. Huckabee has always been the worst of both worlds, a big government socon. Yuck!

  2. Huckleberry is a true Shithead…

  3. Did he not peddle ‘art’ via a free market radio show at one time? Did he forget something?

  4. The $148 million allocated to the National Endowment for the Arts is fiscally trivial in the context of a $4 trillion federal budget.

    I’m going to assume the constant reminders we receive that anything this side of a billion tax dollars is not significant in the grand scheme of things are meant to express the ridiculous size of federal budget and not that these relatively petty amounts aren’t worth being concerned about.

  5. “I’m for cutting waste and killing worthless programs,” he concludes. “I’m not for cutting and killing the hope and help that come from creativity.”

    So being free of the burdens of having to buy votes to get elected to something hasn’t released Hucksterbee from the need to buy votes.

    1. Well, the Arkansawyer Quilting Bee isn’t gonna fund itself.

      1. Next he’ll be up there shilling for cowboy poetry.

  6. Christ, what an asshole.

  7. It is amazing what programs become “necessary” when you are spending someone else’s money.

  8. “I’m for cutting waste and killing worthless programs,” he concludes. “I’m not for cutting and killing the hope and help that come from creativity.”
    So he is not in favor of cutting waste and worthless programs.
    If all “trivial” programs are exempt from cuts, how long until all “big” programs are cut to a trivial size? How about military funding one airplane at a time? One battalion or regiment at a time?
    The real criteria should be how close a program is to a constitutional statement the item is the responsibility of the federal government.
    Saying NEA should not be cut is like saying a family that cannot afford food or rent should go to a movie “because of the children”.
    Some of what comes out of the NEA is probably beneficial at some philosophical level, but some is just free money to crony artists of the NEA bureaucracy.

  9. His band’s NEA subsidy hardest hit? The Huck can’t bring himself to pick up his axe these days. Hopeless.

  10. Its like the Republicans will become Democrats and Democrats will become socialists.

    It would be good for Libertarians, since we would be the party of fiscal conservativism and social liberalism.

  11. “the kids in poverty for whom NEA programs may be their only chance to learn to play an instrument, test-drive their God-given creativity and develop a passion for those things that civilize and humanize us all.”

    That’s fine and all. Now explain why I should be forced to pay for it at the point of a gun.

  12. Dear Reason webmaster,

    WTF? Why, after all these years, is this comment function so fucked up?

    Hello?

    1. Hitler?

  13. When the state pays for art, it’s called propoganda

    1. Sometimes it’s just boring cronyism.

      But, yes.

      I saw the damnedest thing on Facebook today: A meme, on this argument, saying (paraphrase) “Government distrusts the arts when they threaten it”.

      As if anything the NEA funds ever remotely threatens Government?

  14. When the state pays for art, it’s called propoganda

  15. You could do a lot worse politically than looking at any political issue and immediately joining whatever side Mike Huckabee is not on.

  16. One of the soundest arguments for scrapping nea is abstract art. Do you honestly think crap like that would have made the big stage without fed budget money searching for an allocation? Abstract art and postmodernism are the types of tangible wastes that come from morons looking to invent a justification for incinerating money. Pollock was the best male whore that came along to funnel the nea money from the art professors via BJ.

  17. Do you honestly think crap like that would have made the big stage without fed budget money searching for an allocation?

    Yes.

    None of the post-Impressionists were on the government teat, that I know of, nor were the Cubists or Surrealists or Fauvists.

    Kandinsky and Klee, neither. Piet Mondrian, FFS.

    To call “abstract art” some sort of monolith caused by the NEA is odd, since the NEA started in 1965, after abstract art (such as it is, being “everything that isn’t traditional representation”) was already The Hot Thing – indeed, after its origins were hoary and old.

    Government funding before then really had little to do with it, either.

    Just… no. The thesis doesn’t work. Not even close.

    (And also? You don’t have to like abstract art; de gustibus.

    But the idea that it’s all “morons” and “tangible waste” is merely a personal aesthetic judgment, and one difficult to defend without cherry-picking.

    I say this as someone who agrees that Pollock was a waste of canvas and paint, because his drips and drabs are noise, not a composed product.

    But if you try to tell me Klee and Mondrian and Picasso also were, them’s fightin’ words.)

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