10/07/2012 12:22 pm ET Updated Dec 07, 2012

Big Bird in Romney's Sights and the National Endowment for the Arts Is Next

Frighteningly during last week's debate with President Obama Mitt Romney, directing his comments at the moderator Jim Lehrer pontificated:

I'm sorry Jim I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS (public broadcasting) . I'M GOING TO STOP OTHER THINGS (my emphasis)...I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow from money from China to pay for it.

Inevitably and frighteningly the NEA will be on Romney's list to "STOP OTHER THINGS". I say inevitably because Romney has already declared himself on this issue. In an op-ed piece penned by Romney for USA Today ("How Ill Tackle Spending, Debt" 11.03.11) he categorically stated:

The Federal Government should stop doing things we don't need and can't afford. For example:...

Enact deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

An aside. The budget of the NEA is $169 million, very small potatoes in terms of government largess. Gratingly, it is less than the $242 million (eight times the investment -- and but one example) Mr. Romney's Bain Capital earned in its takeover of the medical company Dade International, a company that was ultimately forced into bankruptcy (please see "After a Romney Deal, Profits and Then Layoffs" New York Times, 11.12.11)

The suppression of the NEA, the NEH and PBS would be a cultural and spiritual disaster for the nation. The arts and our respect and nurturing of the arts is key to our lives as Americans. The arts help define our lives and are essential to a dimension of America that has always been great in spirit, our willingness to go beyond the rote and routine, to define new dimensions in ourselves giving us new vistas of entrepreneurship and the confidence to accept risk because we have been tutored in creativity and its wonders.

Please understand I do not say this idly. During Ronald Reagan's presidency I served on the National Council of the Arts as one of President Reagan's appointees. Governor Romney may call himself a Republican, but he is not a Republican of the iconic stature of President Reagan. President Reagan fully understood the importance of the arts to the formation of the nation's character. He understood that the National Endowment for the Arts and the NEH were our government's badge of honor in support of the arts and that his administration would be judged in meaningful dimension by his support for the arts through its support of the NEA and the NEH. From the outset of his presidency, he was personally engaged in supporting the NEA and appointed a close associate, Frank Hodsoll, its Chairman, who performed brilliantly and had open access to the White House.

In simply economic terms it is amazing that a financial engineer of Romney's experience at Bain fails to understand the leverage the arts have had on entire communities, and how they further the economic well being of the nation. One need only consider the beneficial gentrification of entire neighborhoods once close to the abyss, and entire towns and cities whose character has been transformed by the cluster of artists who have gathered to take up residence to form communities of skilled artisans. Of the millions of museum visitors and the hundreds of thousands of Americans in gainful employment in managing and operating these treasured institutions. The wonderful sprawl of art galleries, concert halls, public theaters, and so on. How diminished our lives would be without them.

No, Mr. Romney, we are not borrowing money from China to pay for this part of our lives though we would happily learn from them and from other cultures as they do from ours. The arts are not an American enterprise to be outsourced to China, or India, or wherever, as so many viable companies have been by the financial engineers. The arts are part of our heritage and their sustenance and support is an inherent responsibility to those elected to the bar of the nation's governance.