Although Greg Kaza has political pretenses [sic], a recent article in Chronicles (Cultural Revolutions, June 1992) suggests that he has not learned even the most elementary lessons of American politics-least of which that it is “the art of the possible.” 

The problem with Kaza is that he is an ideologue. Like most ideologues, he would kill the good in his reach for the perfect. With callow impatience, he lambasts Michigan Governor John Engler for failing to cut state funding of the arts by 100 percent. Yet he admits that not one state did so in fiscal year 1992. The facts are these. First, Michigan cut arts funding by 54 percent from fiscal year 1991 to 1992. Second, only Tennessee and Massachusetts reduced arts funding more than Michigan did in fiscal year 1992. And third, in 1992, Michigan’s per capita funding of the arts dropped to 41st in the nation. 

Obviously, reducing the arts budget in half in just one year is not enough for a purist of Kaza’s ilk. His whine betrays a failure to understand the politics of prudence. He seems not to realize that museums, theaters, symphony orchestras, opera and dance companies, hav ing grown accustomed to government subsidies, require at least a brief transition period in which to build stronger links to the private sector if they are to survive. This is especially true of the Detroit Institute of Art, which has a slim endowment compared to other museums of its class. Perhaps Kaza does not want such institutions to survive. In any case, the politics of prudence suggests an ordered withdrawal of public fund ing, not abrupt and total abandonment. 

Kaza’s ideological zeal also distorts his historical perspective. Public fund ing of the arts in America has generally been on an upward trajectory for decades. In 1991, when 16 states were proposing funding increases for the arts, Governor Engler put Michigan artists and art institutions on notice: hence forth they would have to rely more on the private sector and the marketplace for support. For his bold challenge to the status quo, the governor deserves praise, not blame. More than any other individual in Michigan, it was John Engler who forced rethinking of the relationship between taxpayers and government-subsidized art-a fact of supreme significance but one which Kaza seems loathe to acknowledge. 

Kaza, aspiring to sit in the Michigan Legislature, needs to descend his ivory tower and walk in the real world of competing interests. He needs to get in the trenches where funding battles are planned and fought, won and lost. He needs to remove the ideological blinders that keep him from seeing that the idea of state funding for the arts is an issue over which individuals of good will and intelligence can legitimately disagree. 

If the object of government is, as Lincoln once put it, “to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities,” then some government funding of the arts on some occasions is neither unprincipled nor un merited-especially if a majority or “su per-majority” of citizens desire such funding. But Kaza in his zeal would, I suspect, object even to that assertion. He fails to comprehend the politics of prudence. 

        —C.J. Rusty Hills
Director of Communications Office of the Governor
Lansing, MI


Mr. Kaza Replies:

John Engler’s 1990 election as Michigan governor, I wrote in the Summer 1991 issue of Policy Review, was “potentially the second most important political event for the state this century,” next to only the 1937 Battle of the Overpass. “By proposing the most sweeping over haul of Michigan government in the 20th century, Engler has the opportunity not only to redefine the economic future of a major U.S. industrial state, but to profoundly influence national politics as well.” The unspoken assumption of the piece was that Engler has the potential to be the 1996 Republican presidential nominee.

It is instructive to consider the careers of two recent Republican Presidents, one a self-styled pragmatist, the other a dreaded “ideologue.” One was surrounded by full-time media haters who suppressed dissent; the other by professional communicators who encouraged it. [low differently history will judge Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. 

“Public funding of the arts,” writes Mr. Hills, “has generally been on an upward trajectory for decades.” Does this mean conservatives must acquiesce? The “politics of prudence” dictates that the extremist rantings of the James Hart I discussed in my editorial may still be subsidized through art grants. Does this mean law-abiding suburbanites must surrender? 

State funding for the arts is an issue over which individuals of good will and intelligence can legitimately disagree. The unanswered question is: On whose terms? Those of a majority of Americans? Or those of the cultural left? 

“That government is best which governs the least,” Jefferson said, “because its people discipline themselves.” There has been only one President this century whose rhetoric suggested minimal commitment to this ideal. Only time will tell whether there will be another.