How mean-spirited are House Republicans? So mean-spirited that they would end federally funded cowboy poetry! Last Tuesday, Harry Reid, the majority leader, took to the Senate floor to thunder that this town ain’t big enough for both him and the Mean-Spirited Kid (John Boehner).
“The mean-spirited bill, HR 1 . . . eliminates the National Endowment of the Humanities, National Endowment of the Arts,” said Senator Reid. “These programs create jobs. The National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy-poetry festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist.”
“Tens of thousands” would “not exist”? There can’t be that many cowboy poets, can there? Oh, c’mon, don’t be naïve. Where there are taxpayer-funded cowboy poets, there must surely be cowboy-poetry festival administrators, and a Bureau of Cowboy-Poetry Festival Licensing, and cowboy-poetry festival administration grant-writers, and a Department of Cowboy Poetry Festival Administration Grant Application Processing, and Professors of Cowboy-Poetry Festival Educational Workshop Management at dozens of American colleges credentialing thousands of cowboy-poetry festival workshop coordinating majors every year.
It all adds up. In western railroad halts where the Last Chance Saloon shuttered in 1893, dusty one-horse towns are now glittering one-grant towns, where elderly hoochie-koochie dancers are being retrained to lead rewarding lives as inspectors from the Agency of Cowboy-Poetry Festival Handicapped-Access Compliance. Used to be a man could ride the range for days on end under lonesome skies with nuthin’ on the horizon ’cept a withered mesquite and a clump of sagebrush, but now all you see are clouds of dust and all you hear’s the mighty roar of thundering hooves as every gnarled ol’ wrangler in the territory races for the last hitching post outside creative-writing class.
Well, it’s easy to mock, and in the hours after Senator Reid’s effusions many of us on the Internet did. I liked Mary Katherine Ham’s channeling of Ted Kennedy: “John Boehner’s America is a land in which cowboys would be forced into back-alley poetry recitations.” Funny — although, being an example of private-sector non-government-funded wordsmithing, it obviously doesn’t “create jobs.”
But what’s more difficult to figure out is why everyone doesn’t mock — and why Senator Reid (and presumably senior flunkies in the bloated emir-sized retinues that now attend our “citizen-legislators”) thought this would be a persuasive line of argument. This year, the NEA will be giving $50,000 toward the exhibition “Ranchlines: Verses And Visions Of The Rural West” in Elko.
What’s the big deal? It’s 50 grand, a couple of saddlebags in small bills. Not a large sum. But then when you’re Harry Reid staggering around in your trillion-gallon hat, it’s all small potatoes, isn’t it?
He and too many other Americans seem to be living their version of the old line: If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, you have a problem; if you owe the bank a million dollars, the bank has a problem. America owes the world $14 trillion, so the world has a problem.
And, if it’s the world’s problem, why bother our pretty little heads about it? I’m struck by the number of times I’ve been blithely assured by insiders in D.C. and elsewhere that “it’s not in China’s interest” to yank the rug out from under America: We don’t need to do anything drastic, because they won’t do anything drastic. I’m not so sure I could claim with any degree of confidence to know what China considered to be in its interest. But we have the planet’s most lavishly funded intelligence agency, so they’re bound to be on top of it, aren’t they?