Back in the summer of 2009, Andrew Breitbart reported a scandalous tidbit about the politicization of the National Endowment for the Arts on his BigGovernment web site. His report centered on the transcript of a conference between Yosi Sergant, then director of communications at the NEA, Buffy Wicks, from the deliciously named Office of Public Engagement at the White House, and a score of artists and activists.
Mike Skolnick, a filmmaker who now serves as “political director” for Russell Simmons, the vegan proselytizer and hip-hop entrepreneur, started the ball rolling. “I have been asked,” he said,
by folks in the White House and folks in the NEA [to follow up on] the role that we artists and thinkers and tastemakers and marketers and visionaries played during the campaign for the president and also during the his first 200 some odd days of his presidency. . . . I’m hoping that through this group . . . we can . . . get involved in things that we’re passionate about as we did during the campaign . . . to support some of the president’s initiatives . . . and push the president and push his administration.
Why was Mr. Skolnick asked by “folks in the White House” to help get artists to “support the president’s initiatives” and “push his administration”? What was going on here? Buffy (a former Obama campaign activist) offered a clue:
We won and that’s exciting and now we have to take all that energy and make it really meaningful. I’m in the White House now and what I’ve learned is that . . . change doesn’t come easy, but now that I’m actually in the White House and working towards furthering this agenda, this very aggressive agenda, I’m really realizing that . . . we’re going to need your help, and we’re going to come at you with some specific asks here. We wanted folks to connect with local nonprofit organizations in their community. We wanted them to connect with local city council members or local elected officials. We wanted them to connect with federal agencies, with labor unions, progressive groups, face groups, women’s groups, you name it.
Were we called upon to “name it,” we’d say it was a blatant misuse of executive power for the purposes of political indoctrination and partisan propagandizing. But at least since the Robert Mapplethorpe affair, politicization seems to be the default position at the NEA. (There was the interregnum of Dana Gioia, but mark how quickly the Endowment snapped back to politically correct business as usual after Gioia left.)
It turns out the other National Endowment, the one supposedly devoted to the humanities, is not far behind. Last year, we reported in this space on the left-leaning, politically correct program pursued by Jim Leach, chairman of the NEH. Drawing on a column published on powerlineblog.com, we described a NEH-funded initiative to promulgate a politically correct revisionist history of the Pacific Theater in World War II. The message, as one participant wrote, was that “The U.S. military and its veterans constitute an imperialistic, oppressive force which has created and perpetuated its own mythology of liberation and heroism,” etc. It was a nauseating episode.
It was not, however, the only politically tendentious feature of the NEH under Jim Leach. The folks at Power Line have kept tabs on Chairman Jim and, as we write, are in the middle of a multipart series on the former U.S. Congressman’s depredations. By the time you read this, the series will be complete: take a look. It makes for depressing but also illuminating reading. “Leach,” the series argues, “has become an Obama mouthpiece, courtier, toady, ninny, relentlessly promulgating the Obama administration line. Surely this is not what Congress had in mind when it created an agency to support the humanities.”
Last December, we noted that Illinois Congressman Donald Manzullo had been petitioned to vote to defund the NEH and NEA in their entirety. The Republic, we ventured, would survive their demise. What might suffer a setback is taxpayer-supported anti-American revisionist history.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 29 Number 7, on page 2
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