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.
From 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, until 1940, when the first Social Security checks were paid out, Americans did not receive income from the federal government unless they were pensioned veterans or employees of the government itself. For 164 years, Americans took care of themselves and their own families. With the Social Security Act, they began to slide into government dependency.
Today, thanks to Social Security, a majority of Americans over 65 rely on the federal government for a majority of their income. Thanks to Medicare, enacted in 1965, American seniors now rely on the federal government for their health care, too. If Congress does not repeal Obamacare, virtually all Americans will soon depend on government for their health care.
We will no longer be a free and self-reliant people -- we will be a government-dependent people.
Using data from the U.S. Treasury Department, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation determined that as of the end of fiscal 2009 -- before Obamacare was enacted -- the U.S. government faced $61.9 trillion in unfunded liabilities. That amount equaled the national debt plus what the government is expected to owe in entitlements -- primarily Social Security and Medicare benefits -- to people now alive that will not be covered by the tax revenue expected from the current tax structure. At that rate, the government would need to find an additional $200,000 in revenue for every man, women and child in the country just to sustain our pre-Obamacare welfare state.
History will show that President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Congress that enacted Social Security in the 1930s started America on the road to an unsustainable welfare state and national bankruptcy. It may also show whether the next few Congresses and the next president drove America over the brink or finally put us back on the road to self-reliance and individual liberty.