Transcript: Thom Hartmann: The Big Picture: Right wing war on the arts. 19 May '11

Can you imagine an America without art? Well - the Republicans can…that’s why they’ve started a new “War on”. Move over, "war on the working class" - move over, "war on women" - it’s time for the right-wing "war on art".

As ThinkProgress noted - Republican lawmakers in Kansas - South Carolina - Arizona - Florida - New Hampshire - Virginia - Maine - and New Jersey - are pushing legislation that cuts deep into school art budgets - and public radio and television outlets.

These Republicans claim it’s necessary to cut funding for the arts because of huge budget deficits - but in reality these cuts are nickels and dimes compared to the amount of revenue that’s wasted on tax cuts for transnational corporations and the uber-rich -- tax cuts that have no absolutely no effect on American culture.

That is unless you want American Culture to resemble Charles Dickinson's world of Bob Cratchit poverty.

It’s this Ayn Rand “objectivism” that Republicans cling to - arguing that if you can’t think about something or rationalize it - or if you can't make bunch of money off of it - then it has no value - it’s meaningless. That’s how they justify cutting off funding for the arts - by saying it’s wasteful

As Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley said while shutting down the state’s $2.5 million Art Commission: “When you release government from the things it should not be responsible for, you allow the private sector to be more creative and cost efficient”. Right…because cost-efficiency has a whole lot to do with art.

And as for the private sector stepping in - I guess she’s talking about oligarchs like the Koch brothers - the same guys who funded a wing at the Museum of Natural History here in Washington, DC just to raise questions about global warming - so they can keep pumping pollution into the skies and maximize their profits.

I don’t know about you - but the idea of “corporate art” that’s created solely to generate profits for oil barons…doesn’t sound too appealing to me.

Wise governments - throughout history - have given brilliant artists the support they need to change and enrich lives. Beethoven and Mozart's works were often funded by the government - by kings and princes who understood the invaluable role artists played in a community.

But I suppose Republicans think that Beethoven and Mozart would have been better off if they were only funded by corporations...ya write jingles for the East India Tea Company. But the truth is…those who rail against art today - just don’t understand art.

And it’s a shame they weren’t exposed to it as children - to be able to see just how art can impact people’s lives especially in times of crisis like we are in today - and why it's a worthwhile investment by a government. The impacts art has on a community are clear

As the Philadelphia Department of Human Services noted in a study in the 90's: “Poor neighborhoods with high cultural participation were much more likely to have very low delinquency and truancy than other poor neighborhoods”.

Not only that - study after study has shown that art classes in elementary schools improve critical thinking and problem solving - and they give young students a sense of identity and belonging.

Who knows how many future Ansel Adams's - or Georgia O'Keefe's - or Norman Rockwell's will never pick up a camera or a paintbrush because Republicans defunded their schools' art programs.

During the Great Depression - President Franklin Roosevelt knew how important art was - in fact, it was just as important as putting people back to work and turning the economy around. That’s why in addition to building the Works Progress Administration that created millions of jobs during the Great Depression - he also built the Federal Art Project that put tens of thousands of starving painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers, and dancers to work - and gave birth to over 200,000 unique pieces of enduring American Art - cultural additions that are invaluable.

Jackson Pollack was a product of FDR's Federal Art Project. An estimated eight million people were exposed to the Depression Era art thanks to over 100 art centers that employed thousands of art teachers all across the nation

In his book “Dancing in the Dark” - famous cultural historian Morris Dickstein wrote: “The mood of the Depression was defined not only by hard times and a coming world crisis but by many extraordinary attempts to cheer people up…Though poor economically, the decade created a vibrant culture…This is the split personality of Depression culture: on one hand, the effort to grapple with unprecedented economic disaster, to explain and interpret it; on the other hand, the need to get away, to create art and entertainment to distract people from their trouble.”

FDR made sure that art provided much needed distractions from the hardships that Americans were going through. And today - just like in the 1930’s - Americans need not only to know the reality of the poverty Reaganomics has hit us with, but also the beauty and harmony art can inspire, even in the midst of crisis.

But Republicans aren’t offering any. Instead they’re offering up ways for oil barons to keep puncturing holes in the Gulf - health care executives to keep screwing sick people over - and banksters to keep gambling on Wall Street. They say, "Forget about art and culture…it doesn’t make anyone money - let's focus on finance".

But what Republicans don't realize is, for example, that we’re the nation that created jazz - an art form that's enriched the lives and souls of billions of people - whereas exotic financial instruments invented on Wall Street basically ruined our nation - as well as most of Europe.

And today - as Republicans try to push artists back into the shadows to starve - as we watch our culture wither away - we need to make a choice. Do we want to be remembered as the nation that brought the world Jazz - or the nation that brought the world credit default swaps?

That's The Big Picture.

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