- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

With the narrow Republican margins of control in the Congress, the natural tendency is to focus on what Republicans may not be able to accomplish as a result. Too little creative attention has been given to what the just more than 50 percent Republican strength in the Congress plus the White House might empower Republicans and conservatives to achieve.

The emphasis should be on the word creative. In addition, we must be proactive and move out in front on the issues, rather than just reacting to various developments and crises.

A case in point is the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which is badly in need of fundamental reform. The NEA has a history of funding smutty works of so-called art which are calculated to attack the religious beliefs of many if not most Americans.

This so-called art is so ugly and offensive I won't even describe it. It has regularly been in the news, and if you don't recall it, just wait: It will be in the news again.

The NEA has an elaborate bureaucratic structure with outside consulting committees. This structure is thoroughly infiltrated with those who are looking for choice opportunities to fund precisely this kind of art. Many of these individuals just want to attack Catholicism and Christianity, which they see as repressive and not sufficiently politically correct.

These individuals have every right to pursue their goals. But they do not have the right to do so with taxpayer funds. Taxpayers have the right to withdraw their funding from activities of which they do not approve.

The Bush administration can try to reform this mess with new appointments to the endowment bureaucracy. But this trench warfare will be slow and arduous and may produce only meager results. Moreover, it can be easily turned around by a new administration.

But the NEA also cannot be abolished outright. Moderate Republicans from the more liberal states would kill that in a heartbeat.

This is where the creativity comes in. An alternative reform approach can pass Congress easily, and end the abusive use of taxpayer funds to finance smut art.

Congress should quite simply block grant NEA funding back to the states. Each state's share of NEA funds would go to the governor of each state. The governor would then have full discretion to decide what arts activities would receive funding in his or her state.

Current NEA funding would be apportioned to each state based on population. The current federal NEA bureaucracy would then just be abolished, with the savings kept at the federal level for a net gain to taxpayers.

The governor of each state would then be held politically accountable for his or her art funding choices. If the governor chose to fund art that attacked Catholicism or Christianity, then he or she would face the political consequences.

Those who want to use the current NEA bureaucracy to attack religions of which they do not approve would then, in effect, be privatized. They would remain perfectly free to press their case in the private sector on their own dime.

There really is no good argument against such reform. Who is going to want to insist that we retain an unnecessary federal bureaucracy? Obviously, the governor of each state knows better what arts activities to fund locally than a faraway federal bureaucracy.

Is someone going to stand up in Congress and object to the reform on the grounds the governors won't be sufficiently sensitive to funding smut art? That is exactly all that the proposal will leave opponents to argue.

And that is, in effect, what they will argue, spun and packaged in the best way they can imagine to appeal to Middle America. But that is a hopeless cause, and the battle will only reveal where they really stand, in defense of taxpayer-financed, anti-Christian, smut art.

Peter Ferrara is associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law.

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