One indication why cutting the budget strikes sour note

All that jazz. That, and tens of thousands of other tiny federal programs is, if not the only thing, certainly one of the main things that stands between us and the elimination of red ink in the federal government.

Nat Hentoff, the novelist, historian and columnist, is also a titan in the music world, jazz in particular. He probably knows as much about what many consider to be the only truly American art form as just about anyone. He’s a columnist for Jazz Times, and his column this month, I think, is a case study in why eliminating the federal debt is such a Sisyphean undertaking.

How can we hope to cure than nation’s fiscal ills when we can’t even agree the Jazz Master’s Award, a program that recognizes people for their contribution to jazz and administered by the National Endowment for the Arts, is something the country can live without? Maybe this is too pessimistic, but I don’t think we can.

Certainly we won’t if Hentoff has anything to say about it.

Please don’t get me wrong. I consider myself a little bit of a jazz buff, and I have no problem whatsoever with honoring jazz greats, or even with using federal money to do so, when times are good.

I enjoy Hentoff’s columns every month and appreciate his love for music. But I have a problem with this month’s piece, which is a call to arms for jazz-lovers everywhere to do everything they can to save the Jazz Master’s Award. Everything, of course, means contacting lawmakers and letting them know it’s in their best interest to keep the program.

Keeping the Jazz Master’s Award has to be weighed against what’s good for the country. When I do the calculus, it’s pretty easy to see maybe that’s one tiny piece of the federal budget we can do without.

Killing that program won’t make even a tiny dent in the deficit problem. But there are thousands and thousands of similar programs out there. Every one of them has a constituency, and supporters of every one will rally the troops, just as Hentoff is doing now, when their pet program arrives on the chopping block.

I have a good friend who is a quilter, for example. I don’t know for sure what she’d do if she knew federal funding for the National Quilter’s Museum might go away. Maybe she’d write Scott Tipton and urge him to keep it. Maybe she’d realize the good times are gone and learn to live with the fact that federal money spent on quilting is one thing when there’s plenty of money and quite another when there’s not enough money to pay all the bills.

I have other friends who are woodworkers. A few federal dollars every year go to support that hobby. When that money is in jeopardy they, too, will have to decide whether that’s a good or bad use of scarce public money.

I could go on and on. Every one of us has something dear to our heart. And in just about every case we could find some federal money somewhere that supports all of those passions. We all could badger our congressmen and try to keep the funding. After all, no single one of those programs will make or break the federal budget. But neither is any of those programs necessary.

However, they are necessary to congressmen and women. They’re necessary because members of Congress know if they go on record as being opposed to any of those interests, they very well might lose votes. So there is no incentive for a member of Congress to be courageous and tell a constituent he’s not going to support some program.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way the world works. So, that leaves us to solve the problem.

Here’s what I pledge to do: I won’t second-guess any cut in any federal program that does nothing to promote the common good. Honoring great jazz musicians is a wonderful idea, but not something that benefits all of us. The Jazz Master’s Award can go.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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