In Donald Trump's blueprint for the budget, federal funding for the National Endowment of the Arts would be wiped out. The Los Angeles Times did the print equivalent of setting its hair on fire, with a story that said without the NEA, there would be no "Hamilton," the Broadway mega-hit about Alexander Hamilton.
Oh, the horror!
I call BS on that.
The flimsy argument behind that headline was that the smash hit musical Hamilton, "started at (a) theater that received NEA funding."
Yeah, that's a stretch considering the show was written and starred Lin-Manuel Miranda, who had already written and starred in a multiple-Tony Award winning hit show ("In the Heights") and individual scenes from the production had already been performed for President Obama and various A-list guests at a White House dinner. But we're supposed to believe, this was some kind of charity project? As usual, this successful private-sector project was backed and funded for real by private investors all the way.
Oh, but it gets worse. Tickets for the smash hit routinely go for a list price, (not scalped), of $700 apiece. It's a simple fact that only the rich and the elite can actually see this show. How would that not be exactly like the corporate welfare or government favors to the rich the L.A. Times and the rest of the mainstream media is always complaining about? Frankly, it isn't different at all. So even if the L.A. Times were correct in making the argument that all taxpayers should foot the bill for artistic projects, choosing "Hamilton" to make the point was a very, very, bad idea.
Let's get something out of the way right now: "Hamilton," as far as I can reasonably tell, is a darn good show. I can't really afford to go to the show, but I have listened to the soundtrack with my kids at least 100 times, know the lyrics by heart and have seen a lot of video footage of the original cast performance. I love almost everything about it. This isn't an attack on Mr. Miranda or the production, no matter what his and the cast's political leanings may be.
But it is an exhortation to the public that the arts should indeed be left to the private sector to fund via charitable means or reward with their consumer patronage. The NEA or any other government organization shouldn't be deciding which artistic productions do get funding or which do not. The political class cannot be trusted to make those decisions based on anything other than political considerations, period. Cutting funding for the NEA doesn't threaten the arts, it threatens the continued politicization of the arts. And that would be a good thing.
So when it comes to keeping the NEA alive with money from lower and middle income taxpayers who may never even get the chance or want to see the projects it funds, the L.A. Times and the politicians should take a cue from one of the showstopping songs in "Hamilton" and find a way to "Say no to this."
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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