I sometimes feel like a broken record, repeating over and over that slashing arts, humanities, and broadcasting funding is part of the way Republicans are credentialing themselves for national races in 2012 and beyond. But I’m not going to stop, particularly when Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the latest and to my mind one of the most formidable entrants in the 2012 primary race, is doing precisely that. The Texas Tribune reports that Perry recently sent a fundraising appeal on behalf of Citizens Against Government Waste, singling out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, along with bigger-ticket items like federal travel and rail subsidies, as things he believes should be cut.
The funny thing about singling out federal spending on the arts as proof that you’re serious about cutting federal spending is that it actually demonstrates just the opposite. All the things on Perry’s list are fairly small-ticket items that have passionate but somewhat isolated constituencies. There are good reasons federal employees travel, but federal employees aren’t very popular right now, so it’s easy to target them. In an era of minimalist government, it’s an easier soundbite for opponents to make federal funding for the arts sound silly than it is for advocates to explain how public funding stimulates private giving and spurs arts-related growth. Cutting every item on Perry’s list would net us a measly $57.59 billion in savings. That’s not courage or tough decision-making. It’s bullying by budget cut.