« Previous | Culture Monster Home | Next »

The GOP is going after the NEA. Again.

September 25, 2009 |  4:22 pm

Sen. John Cornyn Chris Kleponis Bloomberg News

About two weeks ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) issued an open letter asking President Obama to "take the necessary steps to ensure that the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] and the American arts community it supports remain independent from political manipulation by the White House." Now, 10 more GOP senators have piled on.

The issue arises from a telephone conference-call last month in which the NEA joined with the White House Office of Public Engagement to enlist artists on behalf of the administration's "United We Serve" volunteer service initiative.


Charges of inappropriate political manipulation in Washington don't get much more trivial; but, to see how truly lame this desperate NEA teapot-tempest is, let's take a quick look at what Sen. Cornyn had to say in the wake of the 2006 firing of David Iglesias, former U.S. attorney in New Mexico, ostensibly for "performance-related issues."

Iglesias, one of nine federal prosecutors fired in a scandal still under investigation for Bush White House political manipulation, was contacted in the run-up to the Nov. 2006 election about pending corruption cases by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.).

--During an interview on ABC's "This Week" (3/18/07), Cornyn said investigation of the firings was "basically a political witch hunt."

--Speaking on the Senate floor two days later, Cornyn said: "This president has replaced eight U.S. attorneys whom he himself appointed, and that, for some reason, is supposed to be all about politics, all about dirty pool. Well, it just does not stack up."

--That same day Congressional Quarterly reported that Cornyn said, " I don't see what the hubbub is about relieving eight U.S. attorneys of their job."

Fourteen months later, the Department of Justice's inspector general issued a report on the "hubbub." It states that Iglesias had been wrongfully terminated because he had refused to pursue two prosecutions -- one against a well-known New Mexico Democrat, the other against the community organization ACORN.

"The real reasons for Iglesias' removal were the complaints from New Mexico Republican politicians and party activists about how Iglesias handled voter fraud and public corruption cases in the state," the inspector general said. The report shows that the impetus for the move came from the White House.

So far, Sen. Cornyn has not issued a public statement concerning the relative significance of the federal prosecutor scandal he thought didn't stack up versus the NEA's support for a volunteer service initiative that has made him apoplectic. I'll let you know if he does.

--Christopher Knight

Photo: Sen. John Cornyn; credit: Chris Kleponis / Bloomberg News

Comments () | Archives (8)

I am a big fan of the NEA, and I think this issue is overblown, but the problem here is that they did indeed seem to cross some lines with this conference call.

This is Christopher Knight, replying to Andrew Hazlett: No, that is not the problem. The problem is that Cornyn & Co. wish to make the NEA into a political football.

No one disputes that what the NEA did on the conference call, which took place before an NEA chairman was in place, was in error. But when that foolish action was identified the new chairman took appropriate steps; the responsible party was removed from his post. End of story.

If we start expecting perfection from fallible human beings, we're in deep trouble. And if we don't call out demagogues who are trying to crank up a phony scandal, we'll be in deeper trouble still.

The only good thing about Cornyn being a US Senator, is that he's no longer a sitting judge in TX. This mans' moral compass is very broken.

In response to Christopher Knight: I do indeed dispute that what the NEA did on the conference call was in error--or at least, I dispute most media accounts of what that error was. Yosi should have anticipated the possibility of his actions being misconstrued. And he should have chosen his words more carefully when talking to his old buddies from the campaign days. But most of the accusations leveled against him are unambiguously false.

Thank you, Christopher Knight, for bringing into the light the incredible hypocrisy of Cornyn and his ilk. The Republicans are desperate to find easy "hot button" issues that will distract from their real actions - they masterfully abused and used the NEA in this way from the days of Jesse Helms right up through George Bush. Let's hope that the GOP shenanigans will fall flat on their face, since we finally have intelligent people in the White House, with a genuine love and understanding of the value of the arts to our country...

This indeed does seem to be a calculated overreaction by the GOP who has been head hunting the NEA for decades, but it seems the way to defuse their rancor is for the NEA to stop giving all there grants to such a narrow range of instillation artists. All the big grants out there exclude most artists who are representational except the occasional photo realist or photographer. If therev were a few artists that a Republican could at least remotely understand they might become supporters. If the NEA concentrates on the narrow criteria of only the most trendy contemporary metaphor art they will always be under attack and bigger hypocrites than the GOP itself. Smarter to be balanced mix of old-fashioned skill with high concept art and watch the arts budgets go up. Ballance the playing field, deal with your own judgmental attitudes on what makes art.

Senator Corwyn is quite a guy. A few weeks back on Meet the Press he warned that we shouldn't undermine our health insurance companies. Just who does he work for?
Back to the arts...
Oddly enough, Texas hosts fine orchestras, dance companies and theatres. The arts district in Fort Worth is replete with five expansive museums including the disttinctive Kimbell, comtemporary Modern, and a world-class science museum in the process of being rebuilt. Maybe he should look around at what his population really wants.

If a right-winged artist came out with an anti-Obama piece, and the NEA funded it, what would conservatives think?
"At last, a breath of fresh air in the polluted arts community!"


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.