Believe it or not, this isn’t the most foolish comment from Kareem Dale at the Atlantic Council awards last week. Dale takes his job as Minister of Culture in the Obama administration a little too seriously. He rails against the supposed “second class” status given the arts in America:
For far too long in this country, arts has been the program in this country that is cut when things get difficult. For far too long in this country, arts have been an afterthought. For far too long in this country, arts have been treated as second class, and arts have not been viewed as integral to educating the youth of tomorrow. And for far too long, the arts have not been considered integral to building a prosperous and viable society.
Says who? In what country does Dale live? We have more access for ordinary citizens to the arts now than any time in human history. The entertainment industry alone generates billions of dollars every year in free-market pursuits such as cinema, television, music, and the like. Artists have no restrictions on their output other than the economic limitations of their talent and dedication. Thanks to the Internet and the expansion of broadband connections, the arts have come closer than ever to the hoi polloi.
Ah, but that’s not what Dale means. Dale means that we’re somehow not a viable society because we don’t have the federal government funding artists. Well, we provide a free market for their wares, provide protection against copyright infringement, and allow people to succeed or fail on their own merits. The government has no legitimate role in promoting the arts beyond these basic protections. Even if it did, when times get tough and government has to live within its means, does Dale want to seriously argue that the arts are somehow a higher priority than national defense, enforcing the law, or even Medicare and Social Security? Should people go without prescription drugs so that a SoHo performance artist can get a federal patronage to subsidize art that doesn’t sell on its own?
Of course, Dale isn’t even that honest. When things get difficult, Dale and the administration he represents thinks that government should exempt itself from fiscally-responsible choices and priorities on its spending, and simply strip more capital from the private sector to support mimes and sculptors. No wonder the White House loves MS-NBC; they’re equally clueless.
Update: Here’s the link to the Atlantic Council transcript. I’ve also added the part that I skipped with the ellipsis, which I couldn’t quite get when I posted the clip. Dale is talking about education priorities in that part, but the clear emphasis is his overall portfolio for government subsidies for the arts. Even in educational priorities, though, the arts are important but secondary to literacy, mathematics, and science.