Trump's Proposal to Defund PBS, NEH, NEA Sees Left Throw Childish Fits

P. Gardner Goldsmith | March 17, 2017
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There is an old, well known tune on the children’s television show “Sesame Street” called “One of These Things." It's a pattern recognition game, in which the singer – someone like the universally loved Bob McGrath – sings a few jaunty lines:

“One of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn’t belong. Can you tell me which thing is not like the others, by the time I finish my song?”

While he sings, the audience sees four images in squares, three of which are similar – say, Nancy Pelosi, Medusa, and a ghoul – and one that is not, like a cloud. The kids are supposed to pick the image that doesn’t fit.

(Hint: it's not Nancy Pelosi.)

President Trump recently offered a variation on the game via his budget proposal, in which he showed an image of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) logo, the sigil for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the symbol for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the U.S. Constitution.

Guess which one stands alone?

According to The Wrap, President Trump’s first budget completely defunds the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities -- a move that's being depicted as if Trump is targeting Big Bird for Thanksgiving dinner, or telling Count von Count to count his remaining days, because they’re numbered.

Patricia Harrison, the CEO of PBS, was quoted by the Los Angeles times as saying that this move will, “…begin the collapse of the public media system itself.”

But PBS, a subsidiary of the CPB, has been in decline for years, spending more than it has brought in and has claiming “budget cuts” that never happened. As far back as 2013, economist David R. Henderson noted that PBS stations all over the US were failing, and their executives were scrambling, blind to the realities of the new media market, or to the concept of “markets” at all:

“A group of top PBS executives met in Washington last year (2012) to share their woes and try to find solutions. I attended the meeting and can attest that PBS has no shortage of executives, many if not most with backgrounds in community relations and fund-raising, not running television stations in today’s highly competitive world.”

Meanwhile, public radio and television hosts repeatedly claimed there had been “cuts” in PBS funding. But a quick check on the budget outlays going back to 1999 shows that there were only two years when the overall budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting saw even minimal cuts. In 2008, the CPB got just under $7 million less in taxpayer cash than the previous year, and in 2013, the CPB got roughly $22 million less than the previous year. From 1999 to 2016 the CPB budget has increased from $250 million to $445 million annually.

If you owned a production company that got magical manna money each year to the tune of over $400 million, don't you think you might be able to keep it in the black?

But in the the U.S., the debate appears to be over other things. The bottom line for many seems to be that Trump is simply being mean and evil, going after cultural institutions and art programs and television and radio that “enriches” America. “Artistes” such as the incredibly humble Chelsea Handler, a comedienne of Shakespearian wit and style, recently tweeted:

“Trump’s budget eliminates funding for PBS. I guess Steve Bannon told him Grover was Muslim.”

Sure is great to have Ms. Handler leading the way, speaking “truth to power” and defending art in the U.S. Because without federal agents threatening taxpayers to fund art, television, radio, and other “cultural creations," those things simply wouldn't exist in the U.S.

It’s not as if art is not virtually everywhere – from cereal boxes to pencils, from t-shirts to neckties, from book covers to cable television, billboards, phones, sports logos, soda cans, pizza boxes, menus, diaper boxes, and on and on. The free market has inspired such an explosion of art and cultural creations that, in fact, most people cannot open their eyes in an urban environment and not see some form of art -- art has been created through peaceful, voluntary interactions based on customer preferences.

There is no enumerated power contained in the U.S. Constitution that grants Congress the power to fund “art” or radio, or television, or anything along the so-called “cultural” lines.

In fact, the outcome of tax-funded "art" (and propaganda) leads to incredible frustration and pits some against others. Some might think that giving avant-garde performer Lori Anderson tax cash is a way to “expand the national consciousness” of artistic endeavor. Others might not, or might deplore that the NEA gave money to an artist to immerse a depiction of Jesus Christ on the cross in urine.

Others might point at “Sesame Street" and say, “But this is for the children! How can you take this away from kids?”

The Sesame Workshop, which has made “Sesame Street," “Dragon Tales," “3-2-1 Contact," “Ghost Writer," and “Electric Company,” receives more than one-third of its annual funding from taxpayers. Meanwhile, its licensed products bring in millions per year. When Mitt Romney had the temerity to mention that, maybe, just maybe, it would be a good idea for Sesame Street, PBS and the other “cultural” projects of the U.S. to go private, folks began to look at how much the Sesame Workshop pulls in from its market sales. As far back as 1984, Sesame pulled in $200 million on product licensing alone.

Yet despite having a large footprint on the toy shelves and in kid’s clothing, books, computer games, and deals with HBO and Amazon Prime, Sesame can’t help but mismanage and keep putting itself in the red. David Folkenflik, himself of NPR, noted the trouble last year:

“Between 2012 and 2015, Sesame Workshop's revenues plunged by nearly a quarter, from $121 million to $93 million, leading to deficits.”

Sounds like a typical government-subsidized program.

Yet, even now, leftists try to employ a false dichotomy to deflect from the moral validity of cutting out any areas where the government makes people pay for things.

It’s simple, the kind of thing most people teach their kids: regardless of the reason one believes might be good, it is wrong to steal. It is still wrong even if you have ten, or twenty, or fifty people beside you who say is it okay. Taxation is morally objectionable, regardless of what one thinks of the thing being funded. The ends don’t justify the means, so the less often politicians try to do that, the better.

Isn’t that thing about stealing a lesson we learned as kids ourselves?