The new chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rocco Landesman, addressed grantmakers in a post on the official NEA website. He seems like a nice guy, but he makes a rather over-the-top and completely absurd comparison regarding our current President’s place in literary history:
My answer is pretty simple. There is a new president and a new NEA. The president first. This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists.
Since Caesar? Really? Ed Morrissey, Power Line and the Corner remind us that Reagan, Nixon, Clinton, Eisenhower, and Wilson are just a few American Presidents of the 20th century to have written books before they came to office – to say nothing of world leaders in the intervening centuries since Rome. We really have to go back to Julius Caesar to find a writer with more power than Barack Obama?
Landesman acknowledges the political slant the NEA has taken in the eyes of many, and doesn’t seem to care:
To borrow a line from the Artist in Chief, I’m “fired up and ready to go.”Am I starting to sound like an advocate? Well, that seems to be a touchy subject. Some quote-unquote “journalists” have recently accused this agency of losing its independence and becoming a propaganda machine. While I want to state in no uncertain terms that the NEA is not a political agency and that when art becomes propaganda I lose all interest in it, I also want everyone to know that the days of a defensive NEA are over. We have a plan and we are going to, quote, “advocate” for it.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not worth a lot of heartburn, and it’s no secret that the majority of artists are liberal, and personally espousing those views is fine with me. But it is a curious juxtaposition to see an NEA chair on one hand acknowledge that there’s a groundless belief that the NEA has an organizational bias and then turn around and give such hyperbolic praise to his favorite politician. Coupled with the conference call with the White House that seemed to lay the groundwork for collaboration between the two entities, is it that hard to believe that some conservatives might have a few reservations about the NEA?