Burt Prelutsky

When Senator Jesse Helms passed away, I wrote a piece in which I praised the man. Because he was a controversial figure, I assumed I would be hearing from some of the folks who disapproved of him. One such fellow, a guy in New York we’ll call Bob, wrote to say, “Helms may have been a nice, polite man on the surface, but let’s face it, he was slightly to the right of Genghis Khan, although I think dear old Genghis was much more tolerant. Helms was a racist schmuck and a rabid homophobe.”

To which I responded: “I don’t approve of calling people racists these days because, usually, the people doing the name-calling are racists themselves. And, yes, I am referring to the likes of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the Obamas and their erstwhile spiritual leader, Jeremiah Wright. I also dislike the word ‘homophobe.’ Most people take a live-and-let-live approach to aberrant life styles, but do in fact disapprove of homosexuality, but are simply too timid in these politically correct times to admit it.”

In defense of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), which both Sen. Helms and I vehemently opposed, Bob wrote: “It’s true that there are some really shlocky artists out there, but the NEA supports much more than shlocky art, including many first rate artistic endeavors that nobody could object to.”

To which I replied, “Plenty of people have objected to Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” and even, as we both know, to some of my own endeavors. That isn’t the question. The question is: why should artists who can’t support themselves be supported by the nanny state? At least during the Great Depression, you could have made the case that people simply didn’t have the money to spend on non-essentials, but that’s hardly the case today when people are spending $10 to see a movie and $100 to see a show on Broadway or in Vegas, and God knows how much on electronic toys and games.”

Bob replied, “The NEA’s endowment is so tiny compared to what European governments have done to support the arts that what is taken out of each individual taxpayer’s pocket in America amounts to literally pennies.”

“Why,” I asked, “should we care what Europeans do or don’t do? Considering that Europe gave us Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, is rife with anti-Semitism, and is caving in to sharia law in one craven country after another, why on earth would you suggest using them as our role model?”

“I am a classical musician,” Bob explained, “and an advocate for classical music. Because of the lack of support, many professional symphony orchestras are in serious trouble, and a number of them have been forced to go under, while several others are on the verge.”