Monday, April 11, 2011

Cowboy Up, And Pay For Your Festival Yourselves

Last month, Citizens Against Government Waste named Senate Harry Reid its Porker of the Month "for his absurd belief that a federally-funded Cowboy Poetry Festival in Elko, Nevada (pop. 17,000) constitutes essential government spending."

Today, the New York Times has a story about how Reid shot himself in the foot by bringing up his idiosyncratic pet cultural project during the budget debate.

I mean, the idea of cowboy poets is funny enough all by itself. But the cherry on top is that these sensitive souls in the sagebrush have been getting government grants to produce their celebrations of rugged individualism on the frontier.

For Cowboy Poets, Unwelcome Spotlight in Battle Over Spending:

ELKO, Nev. — This isolated town in the northeast Nevada mountains is known for gold mines, ranches, casinos, bordellos and J. M. Capriola, a destination store with two floors of saddles, boots, spurs and chaps. It is also the birthplace of the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering, a celebration of range song and poetry that draws thousands of cowboys and their fans every January and receives some money from the federal government.

-- snip --

By every account, Mr. Reid is an admirer of what takes place here. He grew up in small-town Nevada, is a fan of cowboy culture and has boasted in news releases of getting money for the Western Folklife Center, which sponsors the event. His mention of the gathering, as an example of what he views as valuable projects financed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, appears to be an innocent — if unfortunate — political misstep by a leader who is known for occasional political missteps.

“He was trying to defend the National Endowment for the Humanities and the N.E.A., and he thought, this is something that he was familiar with and he’s always liked, and he was holding this up as an example,” said Charlie Seemann, the executive director of the Western Folklife Center, a converted 98-year-old hotel on Railroad Street. “And, whoops! In this political climate it was too good a target: ‘Cowboy poetry, say what? We’re paying for that?’ ”

-- snip --

In most years, the government provided about $45,000 to the Western Folklife Center; the conference costs about $650,000 to $700,000, with two-thirds of the money coming from ticket sales. The N.E.A. provided seed money in the early 1980s that allowed researchers to gather oral histories from aging practitioners of what was than seen as a dying art, and to finance what turned out to be the first cowboy poetry gathering.

-- snip --

“Given where we are with our financial situation — and some people would argue regardless of that — this is not something that the federal government should be doing,” said Thomas A. Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “If people want to support a certain amount of activity in the arts or humanities, they should be paying for it. And the fact that Senator Reid for some reason picked this as an example of how extreme the Republican budget was — he might have picked something else.”

-- snip --

One of the most established cowboy poets, John Dofflemyer, a central California rancher, came to Mr. Reid’s defense on his worth-a-click Web site,

Easy to get emotional on the Senate floor, misspeak
extemporaneously to take the snipers’ potshots while
trying to save the arts for humanity like a little girl lost
in the crossfire, or before investing more on war.

If Mr. Reid has succeeded in bringing to light a fascinating aspect of Western culture that is not known to many Americans, it came at a price.

“They brought it up on the Rush Limbaugh show,” said Mr. Dofflemyer, who is 63. “They’re trying to make a mountain of a molehill. Taking away money from the humanities is not going to balance the budget. What do they want to do — send it to Libya? Afghanistan? Iraq?”

To answer Mr. Dofflemyer: Yes, that is indeed the sort of thing I would rather my tax money went for. That, and other types of essential spending, or at least, non-elective spending.

And, by the way, I hope that verse he produced in defense of Harry Reid isn't typical of what we've been subsidizing all these years. Is Reid the "little girl lost in the crossfire"? That kind of thing is not good enough for government work.

If Mr. Dofflemyer is our nation's Cowboy Poet Laureate Lariat, I want my money back.

Here's my obligatory Cowboy Poem, which I composed without any taxpayer assistance:

A Cowboy’s Best Friend Is His 45

Forty-five thou in NEH grants,
like tumbleweeds of taxpayers cash,
blowin’ along down the dusty trail
and all across the lonesome prairie.

Git along, my little subsidies!
Head ‘em up, ride ‘em in, cut ‘em out.
Count ‘em up, cash ‘em in, pay ‘em out.
501(c)3 yodel-lay-he-hoo.

I like that one better than Dofflemyer's. If NEH wasn't losing its cowboy poetry funding, I'd send it in and see if I could get some small financial contribution.


Anonymous said...

Nice Try TSB! I think the problem is that Harry and Obama weren't working together on this thing. They should have given up the $45,000 and offered
up Ben Bernanke as a contestant in this years festival. The increased attendance would have raised millions! Can't you just see him sitting around the fire with those old cowboys with a poem about QE3?

TSB said...

Economists doing poetry has real possibilities. I'd like to see the different styles of the Austrian School versus the Keynsians (if there are any left), Marxists, and Public Choice guys.

Ben Stein would make a great host. C-SPAN would cover it and have re-runs on weekends.