It’s difficult to assess the presidential candidates’ differences on the arts, arts funding and arts education for a simple reason: Senator McCain doesn’t seem to have spelled out any stand on these issues, other than a general opposition to funding “obscenity.”
This isn’t meant as a partisan statement in support of Senator Obama. If you do not agree with federal subsidies for the arts, then you’d certainly oppose his advocacy for an increased NEA budget. You can read the Obama campaign’s official arts policies spelled out on page 3 of the PDF here. Interestingly, these stands include amending the Internal Revenue Code to permit artists, when they’re making charitable contributions, to deduct the fair market value of their works, rather than just the materials. When the current code was adopted in the ’90s, it was widely seen as a significant hindrance to private donations to nonprofit organizations.
In contrast, Senator McCain has made very few public remarks about art subsidies — or any arts issue at all and certainly nothing in print. Determining his view from what can be found online is akin to sifting tea leaves to find a philosophical framework. In 1999, he said, “I have opposed federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts because I believe it is not proper to use tax dollars for what many Americans feel are the obscene and inappropriate projects this organization has supported. I support providing federal block grants to the states for arts education and artistic endeavors pursued by state and local authorities, while assuring that federal tax dollars are not spent on obscene or offensive material.”
This, at least, is fairly plain. He actually indicates a support for art subsidies — only when directed mostly to arts education and with local-community restrictions in place. This is , more or less, the direction the NEA has been cautiously (and, arguably, successfully) pursuing since the overheated culture wars of the ’90s.
There is always the National Review Online’s attack on Senator McCain for being an “ideological multiculturalist,” but this has more to do with his views on bilingual education and free speech than anything specific to the arts. The ArtsVote website, which linked to candidates’ policies during the primary races, lists a McCain arts policy as “pending” — from back in April. And when it comes to arts education, the Educator Compensation Institute unearthed a single item about the senator’s belief in teacher testing and merit pay for the best teachers.
Otherwise, there is nothing of substance to be found, certainly nothing official.
Education Week, which tracks issues and government policies for teachers, could find only vague answers about education — back in January. They conclude that “McCain is a campaign-finance, foreign-relations, anti-abortion, tax-cut candidate. Education is not his thing. Depending on your perspective, McCain’s relative silence on education may be a good thing. If you think the federal government has grossly overreached into the state business of education, then he may be your guy.”
The same, it would seem, is true for the arts in general.
CORRECTION/AMPLIFICATION: Because of that single statement about obscenity and federal subsidies, I attributed to John McCain a willingness to fund the arts (while making certain that anything “obscene” is not funded) . It’s a willingness that, in fact, may not be there at all, at least as demonstrated by some of his legislative actions.
According to Elizabeth Currid of the University of Southern California, writing for USC’s Election 2008 website (“a special resource for journalists”), McCain “has a historical track record of supporting anti-arts legislation, including the 1999 Smith-Ashcroft Amendment, which would have cut all funding for the NEA; and the 1989 Helms Amendment, which aimed to deny funding to art considered ‘obscene.’
McCain, she concludes, “doesn’t have an arts policy, other than a desire to eliminate spending directed toward the arts.”
Thanks to CultureGrrl for the inspiration. Obama photo from readwritenow.wordpress.com. McCain photo from donkeydish.com