Paul Jacob
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When cutting family expenditures to balance the household budget, thereby avoiding the repo man and the bankruptcy judge, one has to set priorities.

Does the mortgage come first? What about saving for college? How does swapping that leaky legacy faucet for a Price Pfister designer model stack up against continuing to pay those regular life insurance premiums or making the car payment?

Of course, for dysfunctional families, perhaps alcohol or drugs or cigarettes would, pathetically, rank at the very top. Even lacking a popular social disease, some folks might prefer a new gadget or cable TV or a new video game before buying health insurance or school supplies or fixing a broken appliance.

Sad to contemplate, certainly, but, in some cases, no doubt true. In these instances, as much as we profoundly disagree with the choices made, it is at least their money.

But what about when it is our money?

National governments have to set priorities as well. Eventually, at least. (Mr. Obama, please take note.)

Actually, the federal government is piling on debt at such a frightening pace that it is nearly universally acknowledged to be unsustainable. Now both Democrats (save the Obama Administration) and Republicans are looking to make cuts.

Sure, the Democrats’ offer teensy-weensy cuts — only roughly one-tenth the spending reductions House Republicans are proposing. But regardless of the level of sanity regarding the magnitude of the budget problem vis-à-vis the minuscule budget tightening put forward, any level of spending cuts will necessarily induce a discussion of priorities.

This past week, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to defund (i.e. stop subsidizing) National Public Radio, slicing $50 million dollars from an appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Republicans claim, rightly, that $50 million is $50 million in savings. This is a point many congressional Democrats don’t seem to understand . . . along with missing the principle of addition: $50 million in savings enough times equals billions.

Republicans complain that NPR has a very liberal bias. Right again. (Same for PBS.) The evidence is not merely the recent gotcha video of an NPR exec callously dismissing a large portion of the country as “crazy.” One also notices the bent when looking at the demographics of NPR’s audience.

But I oppose National Public Radio for the same reason I opposed the Bush Administration spending public money compensating columnists to write favorable opinion articles. A free press is undermined when government controls or competes with private media. State-run, state-owned or state-subsidized media is a bad idea, whether in Egypt, Iran, China or these United States.

In addition to saving precious dollars, zeroing-out funding for public propaganda is a positive for freedom. For Democrats and most progressives, having a government-funded media news source is essential to block “corporate influence.” Never mind that “corporate” media aren’t terribly “conservative” — consider the “right-wing” MSNBC.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) warned Republicans they would face a “razor blade-sharp reaction from the American people as they find . . . there is radio silence.” Silence? (Well, maybe, static hiss.) Of course, even NPR officials say they raise enough private funding to manage without the public subsidy.

Others simply hate commercials — as if NPR’s plugs for outfits that give them money don’t count as commercials. But the fervent desire for fewer commercials is at least understandable.

What’s not understandable is the over-riding issue lost in jabber about whether some of us have to listen to commercials: If we cannot cut funding for radio or TV programming, where should the cuts be made?

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) argued that NPR “programming is vital to over 27 million Americans.”

Vital?

Forget that there seems already to be a healthy abundance of TV and radio news and entertainment. Even if there were not, is NPR more necessary for life than food, shelter, medical care and education?

What school kid should get shortchanged, what medical treatment refused, what soldier denied better equipment, before we risk the possibility that a local radio station might go out of business?

Should we risk financial meltdown to make certain “Car Talk” gets its piece of the borrowed federal pie?

If we can’t deny ourselves the luxury of lavishing funds on someone’s favorite TV or radio program, we will not survive.

In that case, we’ll need all the diversionary entertainment we can get.

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Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.