There has been such a cascade of stupid federal spending programs over the years it might seem nearly impossible to say which was stupidest of all. But let me try.
In the late 1980s, the National Endowment for the Arts seemed to contend honorably for the title. Back then, the NEA funded an exhibit featuring Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ, a photo of a crucifix submerged in urine. The NEA defended the grant on First Amendment grounds -- as if the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free exercise of religion required the government to extract tax dollars from Christian families so a federal bureaucracy could subsidize blasphemy.
In response to the NEA's arrogance, Congress obstreperously passed resolutions and amendments intended to chastise and repair the agency. Yet, the NEA not only still exists, it still distributes dubious grants. Last year, it gave $50,000 in "stimulus" money to the San Francisco-based group Frameline. "Frameline," says the group's Website, "is the nation's only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to the funding, exhibition, distribution and promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media arts." It organizes the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.
But the NEA, which spent only $155 million in 2009, is a minnow in the federal ocean.
The National Institutes for Health, which is slated to spend $37.8 billion in President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget, not only far outspends the NEA, it spends more stupidly.
Matt Cover of CNSNews.com recently reported on a grant that was bird-brained even by NIH standards. It spent $181,406 to study the sexual behavior of coked-up Japanese quail.
"The overall working hypothesis of this proposal is that the magnitude of the sexual response depends on several cocaine pre-exposure parameters including dose, amount of exposure, time between exposures and the withdrawal period before sexual behavior testing," said the NIH abstract for the grant.
"We currently have preliminary evidence in male Japanese quail that pre-exposure to cocaine enhances sexual motivation," said the abstract.
Yet, if it wanted, a new Congress could act almost instantly and probably without significant public dissent to finally terminate the National Endowment for the Arts and significantly curtail stupidities at the NIH.
It could not move so swiftly -- nor with so little political pain -- to deal with the problems caused by Social Security, and its progeny, Medicare and Obamacare.
This is why I nominate Social Security -- the so-called "third rail of American politics" -- as the stupidest government spending program of all.