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Drawing the Line on Subsidizing the Arts

November 24, 2004

Re "Are Democrats Painted Into a Corner? Not Yet," Commentary, Nov. 19: Jonathan Chait's suggestion that the Democrats abandon supporting the National Endowment for the Arts to attract middle America's votes is uninformed and shortsighted. Surveys indicate that 79% of Americans favor governmental support for the arts.

The NEA has enriched culture locally and nationally, enriched arts education and materially enriched local communities. But perhaps its greatest effect has been organizational support to young and deserving arts companies. South Coast Repertory grew to national prominence in part from that support. What astonishes us is the cavalier position taken toward the NEA by Chait in his relentless pursuit of Bush voters. Let's see whom he's willing to throw over the side next week.

David Emmes

Producing artistic director

Martin Benson

Artistic director

South Coast Repertory

Costa Mesa


I was halfway through Chait's piece before I realized this was not parody, but a serious, and seriously flawed, effort at political commentary. Chait, in his passion to be glib, implies that election victory in our democracy does not include the automatic imposition of a tyranny of the majority, whether or not that majority's policies are deemed backward, destructive and morally corrupt. If, as history never stops teaching us, the legacy of a nation can be gauged by how it prepares for the future, gets along with its neighbors, treats its least fortunate and encourages the cultural legacy it leaves in its wake, then the NEA is one of its most important and necessary creations. Hardly an extravagance, it is a luxury we can't afford to live without.

John Kander II



As a "late entry" in the suggestion box of programs and principles that the Democrats might consider throwing out as so much liberal baggage, Chait nominates the NEA. "Let's face it," he writes, "the NEA is in large part a way of forcing the NASCAR set to subsidize the art house set." Good point. Allow me to propose an even later nominee for zeroing out: the Library of Congress. Here's a blatant instance of the NASCAR set being made to subsidize the book-reading set. Books are even more elitist than art. Didn't our president, in establishing his "regular guy" bona fides, once boast/confess that during his four years at Yale he'd read only one book? If the liberals are so addicted to reading books, let them buy them for themselves and spare the rest of us their perpetual bleating about the so-called decline of literacy.

Ned Paynter

San Diego

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