Over the past week or two, a scandal has erupted in the media regarding an alleged payola scheme involving the Bush administration and various conservative columnists. In a nutshell, several pundits are accused of having taken money from the government in exchange for their advocacy of various administration initiatives (such as Bush’s No Child Left Behind) in their opinion columns.
This practice is, of course, appalling. From the writer’s perspective, it represents a form of political prostitution in which their published opinions are tainted by financial incentives. As for the government, it represents an attempt to manipulate the public’s political viewpoints via the misuse of taxpayers’ money. Such activity is standard fare for totalitarian societies, but has no place in a constitutional republic.
While I have enthusiastically agreed with the libertarian commentators who have savaged this whole scheme, I am fascinated with the numerous liberals in the mainstream media and in Congress who have piled on as well. They are outraged that the government is financing propaganda to advance a political agenda. They are decrying the practice as being unethical and probably illegal.
While their accusations are true, I’m astonished at their capacity for double standards. It is no understatement to say that the past 50 years of liberalism have seen the rise of a federal Leviathan which has wrapped its financial tentacles around every aspect of our cultural and intellectual life while simultaneously warping everything in its path towards a glorification of the central government.
If ever there were a case of "throwing stones while living in glass houses", this is it.
So let us take a little trip down memory lane for the benefit of our friends on the Left:
#1 The National Endowment for the Arts:
Every year, this bureaucracy pours millions of taxpayers’ dollars into a variety of endeavors which loosely fall under the rubric of "art". To be fair, much of the money goes to relatively benign causes such as orchestras and ballet companies.
But much of it does not.
The government has an institutional interest in indoctrinating the public with ideas which promote and condone the uncontrolled growth of government. Most art, at some level, has political implications. In becoming one of the most important financiers of art in America, the NEA has, in effect, created a conscious or subconscious artistic/political bias in the direction of ideologies which erode the limitations of the government’s power.
Is it an accident that most painters, sculptors, playwrights, and songwriters are doctrinaire leftists? Go to almost any play debuting in New York or any photography exhibit in Los Angeles and see what you find there. You will discover an overwhelming contamination of the art by a political ideology that promotes socialism, political correctness, hostility to Christianity, and a hatred of Western civilization. Why should American taxpayers be forced to finance an artistic "elite" that despises middle class culture and attacks "bourgeois" values? The past few decades have seen photographs of crucifixes in urine jars and pictures of the Virgin Mary painted with elephant dung…all paid for by government funds. Is this any better than slipping a few bucks to a couple of pundits-for-hire?
If the liberals are upset that the government is financing propaganda for Bush’s crazy "marriage initiative", then might not they see similar folly lurking in the NEA?
Anyone who has been on a college campus in the last 30 years knows that the professoriate is teeming with socialists, communists, man-hating feminists, and assorted relics from the 60s. Not coincidentally, there are innumerable government programs in place that funnel taxpayer dollars into academia.
These bureaucracies, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, have helped to create hordes of "intellectuals" who function much like those maligned neocon pundits. Namely, they take various "grants" from Uncle Sam and crank out naked propaganda which promotes bigger government, higher taxes, and encourages the erosion our Constitutional liberties. The liberal arts and the humanities have become little more than mills of political jargon designed to shill for their paymaster on the Potomac.
For instance, what percentage of Harvard University’s Sociology Department believes in laissez faire capitalism? What percentage of the History Department at Columbia publishes papers calling for smaller government and a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution?
The questions answer themselves.
Government financing of intellectuals creates intellectuals who love government financing.
No surprise there.
#3 Junk Science
As with art and the humanities, the federal government pours vast sums of money into scientific research. While much of this research is not overtly political, a great deal is used by Washington as a rationale for bigger and more intrusive government.
Literally thousands of medical studies have been financed by government grants which serve to limit individual rights and increase the funding and regulatory power of the state. Everything from exercise and fast food consumption to seat belts and gun ownership has been investigated by federally financed "studies" of this sort. Even more malignant assaults on private property have occurred under the rubric of "environmental research", which has recently culminated in a call for total government control of combustion as a way of stopping "global warming".
In contrast, when is the last time anyone saw a government-financed environmental study which concluded that the government should repeal odious regulations and have a greater respect for private property?
Don’t hold your breath.
In financing pundits to spread propaganda for various administration initiatives, the neocons have once again exposed their Trotskyite origins. In a free society, the government has no business even inquiring what the opinions of its citizens are, much less overtly manipulating them. In such a polity, the government is the servant, not the master. In authoritarian and totalitarian societies, the government is the master and it feels no reluctance whatsoever in using its resources to shape the opinions of its servants in a manner that is most suitable to its own goals.
In a host of ways, from its irresponsible management of public finances to its numerous foreign policy debacles, the Bush administration has been an unmitigated fiasco. But there may be a silver lining in this cloud. Perhaps this "Bush experience" might function as a "teachable moment" for American liberals. They spent most of the 20th Century expanding the federal government, eroding our Constitutional liberties, and borrowing venomous political tactics from their Marxists cousins (such as the above-mentioned financing of propaganda with government funds).
Like German generals in 1944 watching in horror as the Red Army used the same tactics that the Germans used against Russia back in 1941, the liberals are stunned and disoriented by the neocons. Perhaps the experience of being at the wrong end of unscrupulous government power will prompt American liberalism to resurrect some of its earlier values. Perhaps they will hearken back to the days when liberalism was an ideology of individual freedom with a healthy suspicion of government power.
I’m not holding my breath, but at least it is something for which we libertarians can hope.