- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

It’s easy for those of us on the campaign trail to lose sight of the bigger picture. When I was asked what I thought of the huge primetime boob exposure, I thought it was a reference to Al Sharpton not knowing what the Federal Reserve was in that candidates’ debate.

@Text.normal:But it turns out instead to have something to do with Janet Jackson. This is a political column, and in the normal course of events some fifth-rate entertainer’s breast awkwardly sticking out from her hideous costume with the nipple poking up through some sort of miniature hub cap would not normally fall within my remit.

Except that it does. Because the federal government is launching a “thorough” investigation into Janet Jackson’s right breast. “I think the FCC is being pretty silly about investigating this,” said Howard Dean, the has-been Vermonter. “I’m probably affected in some ways by the fact that I’m a doctor, so it’s not exactly an unusual phenomenon for me.”

Here’s a sentence I never thought I would type: I’m with Howard Dean on this one. I hasten to add that, alas, breasts are a more unusual phenomenon for me, but I’m generally all in favor of them: I enjoy them when they turn up on BBC costume dramas and when you’re driving through France enjoying the topography and they pop up on billboards so you can enjoy the topoffgraphy.

There’s something to be said for the relaxed Continental approach to nudity. There’s nothing to be said for the hollow joyless mechanical pop culture trash of the Super Bowl show: it was sleazy and worthless when it was fully clothed.

Nonetheless, I don’t see why we need a government investigation. Unlike Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the existence of Janet Jackson’s breast is not in doubt. We know where it is, there have been verified sightings; we’re not relying on faulty intelligence and grainy satellite imagery.

So I agree with Howlin’ Howard. No doubt he has personal reasons for not wanting the Feds to police these kinds of incidents: it’s easy to picture him on stage that night in Iowa going into his bloodcurdling scream and suddenly ripping open his button-down shirt to expose his right breast with a Ben and Jerry’s waffle cone stuck on the nipple. But, whatever the reason, it’s heartening to find a Democratic candidate who is man enough to identify as unnecessary even one area of government spending.

What happened after that Super Bowl show? Within hours, Miss Jackson had lost a lucrative TV contract, NBC had excised a Dr. Dean-like breast examination from “ER,” the NFL announced their Pro Bowl show was dropping some similarly “edgy” half-time entertainment and replacing it with hula dancers and conch blowers, the Grammy Awards telecast decided to go into a play-it-safe time-delay so delayed you’ll be able to tune in and see the Grammy for Best LP go to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. That’s a lot of fallout

If the Golden Globes hadn’t had the good fortune to have already been broadcast, they would undoubtedly have been panicked into changing their name. And, just to cap it off, a lady in Knoxville, outraged at Justin Timberlake’s taking Janet’s top off, is suing the pants off Justin, Janet, CBS, MTV and Viacom.

This is the American way: public pressure, commercial calculation, litigation. And it’s amazingly efficient. It’s a classic example of the market’s greatest strength its ability to self-correct: By midweek, the bottom had dropped out of network nudity.

By contrast, what will be accomplished by a government investigation? Eventually, the Federal Communications Commission will issue a ruling and, if we’re lucky, it won’t be quite as ridiculous as their pronouncement on Bono’s recent use of an obscenity that the FCC deemed permissible because he used it adjectivally.

If the point of these FCC investigations is to maintain standards of decency, then clearly they have been a colossal flop as they should be. If the descent of popular culture into a factory-farm freak-show is to be reversed, it should be by the people, not by FCC Chairman Michael Powell prancing around in metaphorical knickerbockers and buckled shoes as the Queen’s Lord High Chamberlain.

Let us now turn from the breast shot heard of round the world to the president’s $2.5 trillion budget. Do you know what a trillion is? Don’t bother. If you buy a calculator from Staples, you can’t get enough zeroes on the screen. But here’s one way to look at it: President Bush plans to blow more of your money in the coming year than the first 25 presidents of the United States spent combined, even after adjusting for inflation. In other words, the budget, like Janet, is bustin’ its bodice.

And, like the investigation by the Federal Nipple Police, most of it’s a waste of time and money. Never mind the president’s sudden generosity toward the National Endowment for the Arts, an agency Republicans once dreamed of abolishing.

Did you know a couple of weeks ago the president signed an $820-billion appropriations bill that, among other boondoggles, puts Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the public dime? That’s right: rock ‘n’ roll the most ruthlessly corporate industry in the world apparently requires the tax dollars of America’s widows and spinsters. If every rock star donated just 1 percent of what he has spent on drugs since 1966, you could have the most lavish Hall of Fame in the world. But he won’t, so you have to pay up instead.

One day you’ll swing by and in the Jackson Family exhibit there’ll be an animatronic recreation of Janet’s dancing breast: Your tax dollars at work.

If rock ‘n’ roll requires federal funding, we might as well give up. A government with its fingers in every pie is unlikely to have enough left over for the handful of pies it should have its fingers in. It was summed up by Americans’ only glimpse of the president on the morning of September 11, 2001: the commander in chief being informed of the first attack on the American mainland in nearly 200 years while speaking to grade-schoolers in Florida. That image encapsulates everything that is wrong with both parties’ approach to government.

As we learned in the days after, because of incompatible computers, the FBI was unable to e-mail pictures of the September 11 killers to local offices. Yet there’s money for rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia, and an “indoor rain forest” in Iowa.

The president should not be the national school superintendent, the pharmacist in chief, the curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or the inspector-general of Janet Jackson’s breasts. And, if neither politicians nor the electorate understands that at a time of war, then republican government is doomed.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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