With arts and public broadcast issues percolating on the edge of the race for the 2012 presidential race, I thought it made sense to look at where the declared and prospective candidates for president have stood on arts issues throughout their careers. Their views on everything from arts education to intellectual property rights to support for local artistic traditions say a lot about how they value culture — but also about how they think about the role of government.
Of all the lawmakers I’ve looked at in this series, far and away the biggest surprise to me has been the record of Pennsylvania’s former Republican Senator Rick Santorum. I never would have expected that Santorum would be a fan of the arts, much less one of the Republicans who bucked attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts and went out of his way to seek federal financial support for the arts in Pennsylvania. But he is. Though Santorum’s more conservative on issues of copyright and intellectual property, and he’s supported various federal decency efforts, that perspective on the arts remains a surprise, and compared to some of his competitors in the Republican primary, frankly a welcome one:
1991: Santorum voted with House Republicans to ban the National Endowment for the Arts from supporting projects that could be considered obscene.
1995: During fights over funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, arts advocates lobbied Santorum, who was generally opposed to the idea that a few pieces of controversial art were grounds for dismantling the agency. He defended public broadcasting programs, even as he insisted that government support wasn’t critical to their survival, saying, “I have my share of ‘Shining Time Station’ puzzles for my 4-year-old and my 2-year-old…I have a bunch of this stuff – Mr. Rogers, a wonderful man…who does a tremendous show.” He supported cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but not in direct funding to local broadcasters.
1997: Santorum publicly backed NEA funding, saying, ”The arts foster a strong sense of community and bring new ideas and cultures to many individuals and families all over the nation. Elimination of such programs would create a cultural vacuum that could not be easily filled.”
1998: As the fights over the NEA’s existence faded, Santorum’s spokeswoman said he was unlikely to support measures to axe the agency or make further deep cuts in its budget. That won him criticism from conservatives, though his problem in Pennsylvania was generally being regarded as too conservative rather than too moderate. At the 2000 Republican convention, Pennyslvania Republican activist and former RNC member Elsie Hillman actually cited Santorum’s stances on the arts as proof that he was a moderate, rather than a hardcore conservative, something that was hurting Santorum’s reelection prospects. That same year, though, he voted against a Clinton budget that would have provided $1.75 million for an arts and science education center in Pennsylvania.
2000: Santorum tried, and failed, to bring forward legislation that would have created a universal ratings system across the entertainment industry, rather than the varying and voluntary systems that existed at the time and that exist now (interestingly, the GAO study I cited earlier in the day suggested that most parents assume there is a universal ratings system rather than a patchwork of codes). He’d bring up the issue of ratings again in 2004, publicly supporting an industry-backed effort to designate an Entertainment Ratings and Labeling Awareness Month.
2002: Santorum weighed in on copyright issues, suggesting that it was a mistake to change patent law to let generic drugs get to the market more quickly on the grounds that it would stifle innovation. He also called for investigations into peer-to-peer networks on the grounds that they made it easier for minors to access pornography.
2003: Santorum cosigned a letter along with a number of his Republican colleagues encouraging the administration to seek stricter enforcement of World Trade Organization rules on China to curb, among other things, software and content piracy. (In more contemporary news, he doesn’t appear to have a position on the PROTECT IP act.)
2005: The arts may not have been enough of a priority for Santorum to get him to vote for an overall budget, but he wasn’t above accepting funding for projects in his state when he thought they’d support the economy as well as the arts. When the Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated $4.3 million to convert an eyeglasses factory into an arts and education center, Santorum said, “This loan guarantee will provide resources needed to make capital improvements to the building and strengthen the local economy. The projects that are benefiting from this funding will ensure that Reading remains a great place to live and do business.” The following year, he and Sen. Arlen Specter secured $300,000 in federal funding towards a $35.9 million capital campaign to fund a August Wilson Center for African American Culture.
2006: Santorum was a cosponsor of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which jacked Federal Communications Commissions fines from $32,500 for each violation to $325,000, with a cap of $3 million in fines for a single broadcast day.
Given that Santorum’s been out of office for some time, and competitors like Michele Bachmann have staked out positions to the right of him on social issues like equal marriage rights as well as federal arts funding issues, it might be worth asking if Santorum still holds to his old support for the NEA, and to figure out where he stands on PROTECT IP. If you get the opportunity to pose those questions, feel free to steal them — just report back here.