When NEA Chairman Frohnmayer announced last September that the funds Congress left to the NEA after taking out a big chunk for the state arts agencies would from now on be spent on strengthening arts in education, international projects, expanding audiences for the arts, and the infrastructure of the arts, many of us took heart. We thought that lessons had been learned, that in its mysterious way the political process had brought about its own compromise. The other side would be rid of what it did not want, which was “restrictive language,” e.g., you may not use federal funds to employ human fetuses in art work or to engage in partisan politics, and the conservative side would get rid of what it did not want, which was the use of federal funds to employ human fetuses in art work or to engage in partisan politics. This miracle, worthy of Solomon, would come about simply because federal funds would be directed toward institutions, rather than individuals, so that no further abuse of tax funds could occur.

But this is not what is happening, and people wiser than this writer were right in insisting that the NEA would go on as before, once the agency had survived its reauthorization. According to recent news, enormous grants have gone to some of those very persons who provoked the outrage to begin with. That is to say, while the disposable budget of the NEA at the national level has been reduced considerably, the money they still have is being used in a manner that is meant to spite and provoke those of us who thought the NEA should focus upon consensus-building projects in which the vast majority of Americans may take pride. Chairman Frohnmayer tells us he will not even carry out the law of Congress, which says that considerations of decency will come into play—even with the limited funds now in hand. The highest priority is therefore going to be assigned to precisely the kinds of programs that earlier created profound offense. The rump-Council, meeting with no quorum, concurs.

The grants to projects offensive to enormous numbers of Americans are defended: the NEA has to support the cutting edge of art. But a governmentsponsored cutting edge is implausible and self-serving. This point has been made in the columns of Chronicles, and the people who argued against the NEA have been vindicated by Chairman Frohnmayer’s justification for his decision.

Three issues are at stake. First, do conservatives and religious people outside of the left-wing have a right to participate in the shaping of the political consensus? No, as we now hear, we do not have to be listened to. Second, do the centrists in Congress, including Congressmen Williams and Regula, have the right to legislate public policy through accommodation, negotiation, and compromise? No, as we are now told; they can propose, but the NEA administration will dispose. Third, can tax money be spent on the arts that contribute to the general welfare, or will tax funds always end up provoking controversy and outrage? What we are told is that considerations of the social order will not stand in the way of the NEA’s use of public funds, and that the NEA insiders will use these funds in any way they well please.