Category Archives: Mentions

Behind the right’s loathing of the NEA: Two ‘despicable’ exhibits almost 30 years ago || Washington Post

Behind the right’s loathing of the NEA: Two ‘despicable’ exhibits almost 30 years ago

By Travis M. Andrews

President Trump’s proposed budget calls for the complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, much to the delight of many conservatives, particularly those old enough to remember when the battle against the NEA became a crusade, who will tell you, with anger unabated after nearly 30 years, about the “Mapplethorpe” exhibit and a photo called “Piss Christ.”

The year was 1989. The right’s effort to defund the NEA, founded as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, was well underway, but mostly as a spending issue, something to be cut, disliked by the administration of Ronald Reagan but not necessarily loathed.

“In the 1980s, the NEA was seen as little more than an irritant and not an agent for political or social change,” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told The Washington Post.

After all, Shirley said, Reagan was a “patron of the arts” and a former actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild. Eventually, he merely proposed cuts to the agency’s budget.

“The transition team really did want to defund it,” W. Barnabas McHenry, vice chairman of the Presidential Task Force on the Arts & Humanities under Reagan, told the New York Times in 1988. “So we put a lot of people on the task force like Charlton Heston and Adolph Coors who were close to the President, and we all thought the task force did finally persuade him that it would be a terrible thing to stop the Federal support.”

“In the 1980s, the economy is in bad shape, the military is in bad shape, the Soviet Union is looming,” Shirley said. “So when people wake up in the morning, they’re not thinking of the NEA and art they think is obscene. They’re thinking about getting a job. They’re thinking about the potential of World War III.”

The end of the ’80s, however, was a “time of relative peace,” which Shirley said is when “people turn their eyes to something like the NEA.”

There had long been “a perception that a lot of liberal causes and a lot of liberal art was being promoted by the NEA,” he said.

But the passion to do away with the organization had yet to reach a fever.

Then came “Piss Christ” by Catholic artist Andres Serrano, a snapshot of Jesus on the crucifix, soaking in the artist’s urine. It debuted quietly in New York in 1987 but caused an uproar two years later when it was shown in Virginia on a tour partially funded by an NEA grant.

“The Virginia Museum should not be in the business of promoting and subsidizing hatred and intolerance. Would they pay the KKK to do a work defaming blacks?” one museum-goer wrote in a letter to the Richmond Free-Press.

The Rev. Donald Wildmon, founder of what is now called the American Family Foundation, sent a letter to every member of Congress, according to “Censorship of the American Theatre in the Twentieth Century.”

“I would never, ever have dreamed that I would live to see such demeaning disrespect and desecration of Christ in our country that is present today,” Wildmon wrote. “Maybe, before the physical persecution of Christians begins, we will gain the courage to stand against such bigotry.”

Conservative Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Alphonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor in May 1989 “to question the NEA’s funding procedures.” Helms called Serrano “not an artist, he is a jerk,” and D’Amato theatrically tore a reproduction of the work to shreds, calling it a “deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity.”

Meanwhile, more than 50 senators and 150 representatives contacted the NEA to complain about the exhibits.

Serrano still remembers being “shocked” by the angry reaction and, he told The Post on Sunday, how suddenly the work became a “political football.”

“I was born and raised a Catholic and have been a Christian all my life,” he said. “My work is not meant to be blasphemous nor offensive. … It was very surreal to see myself become the object of a controversy and national debate I did not intend.”

Regardless of Serrano’s intentions, the religious right’s crusade against the NEA had begun.

But the exhibit that pushed Helms over the edge was a retrospective of work by late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who Andrew Hartman, author of “A War for the Soul Of America: A History of the Culture Wars,” wrote “became the Christian Right’s bête noire.”

After being displayed with little fanfare in Chicago and Philadelphia, “The Perfect Moment” was set to arrive at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington on July 1, 1989, four months after Mapplethorpe died at 42 of complications from HIV/AIDS.

Like the exhibit containing “Piss Christ,” it was partially, indirectly funded by the NEA.

The exhibit featured 175 photographs. One hundred sixty-eight were inoffensive, such as images of carefully arranged flowers. The seven from his “X-Portfolio,” though, were intensely provocative. One presented a finger inserted into a penis. Another was a self-portrait showing Mapplethorpe graphically inserting a bullwhip into his anus. Two displayed nude children.

The exhibit so enraged Helms, he mailed reproductions of four offending images, including one of a prepubescent girl exposing herself and one of a naked boy, to several senators in what The Post called “Helms’s ‘Indecent Sampler.’” That outrage quickly spread.

“Mao is dead,” as author Todd Gitlin described the moment. “Now Mapplethorpe is the devil king.”

One person who viewed the exhibit wrote in a museum registry, “I’ve been here four times already and this show disgusts me more each time I see it.”

Amid the outcry, the Corcoran canceled the exhibit to avoid being involved in the fight over the NEA’s funding of the work, as the museum’s director, Christina Orr-Cahall, told The Post at the time.

Nearly 1,000 gathered outside the museum to protest the cancellation. They projected 50-foot enlargements of Mapplethorpe’s work on the gallery wall from 17th Street. “We’re giving him his show,” artist Rockne Krebs told The Post.

Meanwhile, as Hartman told The Post, “There were probably hundreds of thousands of phone calls and letters made about these issues to congressmen.”

The House quickly cut $45,000 from the NEA’s proposed budget, “the exact amount of the two grants that funded Mapplethorpe and Serrano,” The Post reported in 1989.

Fueled by outrage, Helms sponsored a bill, which passed, to bar the NEA from using funds to ”promote, disseminate or produce obscene or indecent materials, including but not limited to depictions of sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the exploitation of children, or individuals engaged in sex acts, or material which denigrates the objects or beliefs of the adherents of a particular religion or nonreligion.”

This pair of controversies transformed the NEA into a political symbol and brought it front and center in “The Culture Wars,” which Pat Buchanan called “as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

”We are not going to give the money to aging hippies anymore to desecrate the crucifix or do other strange things,” stated Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) in 1997. Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.) called the organization “the single most visible and deplorable black mark on the arts in America that I have seen in my lifetime.”

As then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) would say in that same year, calls to defund the organization weren’t just about government spending but about fighting “an elite group who wants the Government to define that art is good.” It was a common theme. Two years earlier, Gingrich saidabout the NEA on C-SPAN, “I’m against self-selected elites using your tax money and my tax money to pay off their friends.”

Even the NEA in its own written history acknowledged that this was the point the anti-NEA sentiment became an issue of values. “To many the names Serrano and Mapplethorpe were now tokens of moral corruption inside the agency,” it stated.

Conservatives found the exhibits so deplorable, they still talk about them nearly 30 years later as among the reasons for abolishing the NEA.

In February, Frontpage magazine published a piece titled, “Lefties freak out of over that Trump may cut funds for ‘Piss Christ’ agency.” In an op-ed Wednesday, conservative columnist George F. Will again invoked the photograph. It also appeared in a commentary arguing against NEA funding, published this morning in the American Spectator. Both artists are mentioned several times in a Heritage Foundation article titled “Ten Good Reasons to Eliminate Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.” In a piece about the NEA’s “top 10 crazy grants,” the Washington Times sarcastically called “Piss Christ” “an oldie but goodie.”

Still, the NEA has avoided defunding, in part because the right has never been ascendant in both Congress and the White House and also because these  controversies “really scared” the NEA, Hartman said. He said that the agency has mostly avoided funding controversial art since.

It may survive this storm, too.

The NEA, Hartman said, “has been so smart about the types of programs that they fund, because they placed them all over the country so just about everyone in Congress has constituents who benefit” from the its largesse.

Dana Gioia, former chairman of the NEA, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The NEA Shakespeare program, for example, has helped bring professional stage productions to 3,900 towns, mostly small and midsize communities. … It has provided millions of high school students with a chance to experience live theater, most of them for the first time.”

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Craig Shirley: Trump’s Address Gave Optimism We Haven’t Seen in Years || Newsmax

Craig Shirley: Trump’s Address Gave Optimism We Haven’t Seen in Years

Wednesday, 01 Mar 2017 03:03 PM

Presidential historian and Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley tells Newsmax TV that President Donald Trump revealed he is a “very capable politician” during his address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

“Trump, I think, is emerging as his own individual. I think obviously he’s always been his own individual, but people weren’t really paying attention until last night,” Shirley said Wednesday to Bill Tucker on “America Talks Live.”

“And I think that’s really the difference — that for once the intelligentsia is paying attention to Donald Trump and realizing this is a very capable politician.”

Shirley was also impressed with Trump’s message of unity, something that many popular presidents of the past have used — not that that goal will be easy to deliver.

“Most people, I think, want a peaceful, free and prosperous America. But the dreams, unfortunately, have become smaller. Franklin Roosevelt spoke like that also, as did John Kennedy, as did Ronald Reagan,” he said.

“Franklin Roosevelt talked about defeating the evils of Nazi Germany and the empire of Japan. John Kennedy talked about going to the moon and new frontiers. And Ronald Reagan talked about defeating the Soviet Empire and turning around the malaise of America.

“So yes, Trump spoke about dreams but unfortunately they seem fairly small by comparison to the great expectations of previous presidents.”

Trump’s optimism, Shirley told Tucker, is not something the nation has heard much from recent commanders-in-chief.

“We haven’t heard that for the last eight years, we didn’t hear that from Jimmy Carter, we didn’t hear that from Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, or Lyndon Johnson,” he said.

“It takes an exceptional man, I think, to see into the future and see a better, more prosperous, more freer, more healthier country. I think that Trump is heading in that direction.”

In addition, Trump’s address was “a complete break with Obamaism and Bushism.”

“Now I’ve seen a lot of discussion of the era of Reagan is over. Donald Trump was restating many of the Reagan-era principles of less government, more freedom, projecting American power, defending American interests,” Shirley said.

“Ronald Reagan would have been very comfortable saying, I’m not the president of the world, I’m simply the president of the United States. In fact, there were a lot of things last night that I would say that Reagan would be very comfortable saying.

“But not the Bushes and certainly not Barack Obama. Barack Obama always viewed himself as president of the world and not just president of the United States.”

Shirley is the author of “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980,” to be published later this month by Broadside Books.

“It is about Reagan’s third run. He’s already 66 years old, many people were saying he’s too old to run a third time for president. He’s tried in ’68 and failed, tried really in ’76 and failed, and he ought to step aside for younger leaders,” Shirley said.

“And it’s about Reagan’s mighty struggle against the headwinds that opposed him, including the Washington establishment, the Republican Party establishment, the media establishment — sounds kind of familiar, right?”

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Reagan Historian: Trump Should Turn Off the TV || Lifezette

Reagan Historian: Trump Should Turn Off the TV

Presidential biographer says Trump needs to forget the pundits, start driving the conversation

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 07 Feb 2017 at 4:23 PM

It’s no secret that President Donald Trump closely monitors how news outlets are reporting on his administration. And when he comes across something he doesn’t like or that he views as inaccurate, he often turns to Twitter to unleash his frustration.

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough became one of Trump’s latest irritants when he wondered aloud Monday on “Morning Joe” about “who calls the shots” in Trump’s White House, saying, “It is astounding that this soon into a new administration, I don’t know, maybe [Steve] Bannon is calling all the shots, I still don’t think he is. I think Trump is the guy who calls the shots, but this is a thing that I guess needs to be investigated.”

And it took just mere moments before the president fired back at Scarborough in a scathing rebuke.

“I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it,” Trump tweeted. “Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!”

The tone of Trump’s defensive tweet prompted widespread ridicule in the media. “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah even went so far as to proclaim Bannon president of the United States.

“Trump’s defensiveness is telling. It shows that even he realizes he needs to prove he’s in control, and maybe some day he will be. But for now, let’s congratulate Steve Bannon,” Noah said Monday evening. “As of this moment, you are the real president … The American people didn’t elect you. But then again, they kind of didn’t elect Trump either.”

Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump railed against the “dishonest media” and lambasted them for their negative — and often inaccurate — coverage of his rallies, his policies, and the level of his national support. When Trump defeated media darling and former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a stunning upset, the pundits stood by in shock before unleashing a torrent of caterwauling.

Using Twitter as his primary medium to push back, Trump left no room for any doubts concerning his opinion of the media.

“I am not only fighting Crooked Hillary, I am fighting the dishonest and corrupt media and her government protection process. People get it!” Trump tweeted in a media-directed tirade on Aug. 14.

“My rallies are not covered properly by the media. They never discuss the real message and never show crowd size or enthusiasm,” Trump continued. “If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20%.”

This blunt method of communication ultimately served candidate Trump’s purposes effectively and brought his opinions directly to the people. But Trump is no longer a presidential candidate.

“I think also he’s got to realize that … he’s no longer running for office. He drives the news. They don’t drive him. He drives them,” Craig Shirley, a Ronald Reagan biographer and presidential historian, said Tuesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show.” “So, sometimes it’s better to say fewer things and tweet fewer things that to say something all the time and tweet all the time.”

If Trump continues to flock to Twitter on every whim, his administration and presidency could suffer, Shirley warned.

“Trump needs to say ‘No’ to interview requests or to over-booking in his schedule. He needs time to stop and think — just think things through or talk things through with a few trusted confidential aides,” Shirley said.

Shirley especially pointed back to Trump’s interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that aired Sunday, in which O’Reilly asked Trump if he respected Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Trump said he did, O’Reilly said that Putin was “a killer.”

“We’ve got a lot of killers … You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump responded. “Well — take a look at what we’ve done too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes … but a lot of people were killed. So a lot of killers around, believe me.”

Of course, the mainstream media immediately pounced on Trump’s words, suggesting the president was drawing a “moral equivalency” between Russia and the U.S.

“It was fine up until he made the moral equivalency argument between the United States and Russia,” Shirley said. “I think he needs to go out and clean it up a little bit.”

These mistakes can be costly and lead to the Trump administration’s “currency” and leverage “being devolved and overexposed,” Shirley said.

There is also no need for Trump’s officials and advisers to make the Sunday morning show rounds tirelessly every week and agree to appear on every show every day all week, LifeZette Editor-in-Chief Laura Ingraham said. Noting that Vice President Mike Pence gave interviews on four Sunday morning shows this week, Ingraham said that “less is more sometimes.”

“I agree with you. I think we’re seeing all of them too much,” Ingraham told Shirley.

Rather than allowing the media to twist their words and distract from the concrete actions the president and his administration are taking, Ingraham said that Trump and his team should concentrate on fulfilling his campaign promises.

“I’d turn off the TV. Turn it off. There’s nothing to watch anyway. It’s not going to make your life any better. It’s not going to make your job any easier. Turn it off,” Ingraham said. “Unless it’s something where you’re galvanizing the public to your point of view on something, I think Twitter can be fine.”

“[Trump’s] not a pundit. He’s the president. And he doesn’t need to act like a pundit,” Ingraham said. “Every time someone says something or [criticizes] him, he doesn’t need to respond via Twitter. It just — it’s pointless. It’s a pointless endeavor.”

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Mike Pence’s swearing-in is full of symbolism || USA Today

Mike Pence’s swearing-in is full of symbolism

Obama Isn’t Planning to Be as Silent as Bush in Post-Presidency || Daily Signal

Obama Isn’t Planning to Be as Silent as Bush in Post-Presidency

President Barack Obama says he appreciated George W. Bush’s silence during his eight years in office. Now, as the current president prepares for life outside the White House, his aides have given mixed messages about just how political Obama will be during the Trump administration.

Obama has said speaking out on policy won’t be his priority after leaving the White House on Friday.

“Now, that doesn’t mean that if a year from now or a year and a half from now or two years from now, there is an issue of such moment, such import, that isn’t just a debate about a particular tax bill or, you know, a particular policy, but goes to some foundational issues about our democracy that I might not weigh in,” Obama said in a December CNN interview with his former adviser, David Axelrod. “You know, I’m still a citizen and that carries with it duties and obligations.”

Upon leaving the White House, Obama will be the first president to remain in the District of Columbia since Woodrow Wilson in 1921. The first family is remaining in the District until their 15-year-old daughter, Sasha, graduates high school.

Obama will have a new office in the same building that houses the World Wildlife Federation. He has also already started building his post-presidency staff, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday. He hired a chief of staff, Anita Decker Breckenridge, an aide since Obama was an Illinois state legislator in 2003.

Obama White House aides Valerie Jarrett and Jen Psaki told the Tribune that Obama will work to ensure affordable health care access—presumably meaning he will speak out against President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to dismantle Obamacare.

The Tribune also reported that Obama will speak up for Dreamers, the label given to children of illegal immigrants. In June 2012, Obama took executive action to carry out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects illegal immigrants from deportation. Trump opposes the program.

Obama’s involvement in policy battles would be a significant departure from his predecessor. Upon leaving office in 2009, Bush retreated to Texas and out of the spotlight.

Just days after the November election, White House press secretary Josh Earnest invoked Bush’s behavior to indicate Obama might not second guess Trump in public.

“He deeply appreciated how President George W. Bush, after leaving office, gave the new president some running room, gave him a little space, wasn’t backseat driving in public, offering up all kinds of critiques with every single decision that President Obama was making in the earliest days of his presidency,” Earnest told reporters during a White House briefing.

“I’m confident that President George W. Bush didn’t agree with every single decision that President Obama was making,” Earnest added, “but he was extraordinarily respectful of the democratic process. President Obama admired that.”

Bush has consistently steered clear of criticizing Obama or even making many policy pronouncements. Democrat predecessors such as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have remained in the spotlight, choosing to speak out on various political issues of interest to them.

“He is already one of the wealthiest presidents in modern history and he will probably make millions more on corporate boards,” author and presidential historian Craig Shirley told The Daily Signal of Obama. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he became secretary-general of the United Nations.”

Shirley, a biographer of Ronald Reagan, said Obama will be similar to Clinton—young in retirement and unable to step out of the spotlight. He doesn’t anticipate Obama having a modest post-presidency like his immediate predecessor.

“He will continue talking. That’s what he knows how to do,” Shirley said of Obama. “He won’t fade away. When Reagan’s eight years were up, he went back to California. When [Dwight] Eisenhower’s eight years were up, he returned to Gettysburg and played golf.”

Reports over the last two years indicated Obama would focus on his presidential library to be built in Chicago, but also on helping black youth through a nonprofit incarnation of the White House initiative known as “My Brother’s Keeper.”

Obama has said he was committed to the goals of the “My Brother’s Keeper” program to boost opportunities for young men of color after leaving office. Shirley suggested this could be an “admirable” nonpolitical issue for Obama—one in which he could become an elder statesman in his post-presidency.

A more political effort would come from his work with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which is focused on doing away with gerrymandering. Obama is expected to work with former Attorney General Eric Holder on the initiative. Gerrymandering is the drawing of legislative and congressional districts to help one’s party.

Obama’s involvement is geared toward helping Democrats running for state legislatures win back state houses before the 2020 census and subsequent redistricting.

“The Democrats have lost about 1,000 elective legislative seats since Obama took office,” Shirley said. “For stopping gerrymandering, they’re not going to turn to Obama for guidance.”

During the CNN interview in December, Obama talked about shaping the next generation of leaders.

“With respect to my priorities when I leave, it is to build that next generation of leadership; organizers, journalists, politicians,” Obama said. “I see them in America, I see them around the world, 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds who are just full of talent, full of idealism.”

He continued that a short-term goal would be helping his beleaguered Democrats.

“I think what I can do is not do it myself, but say to those who are still in the game right now look, think about this, think about how you’re organizing that, you know, what are you doing to make sure that young talent is out there in the field being supported,” Obama said. “You know, how are you making sure that your message is reaching everybody and not just those who have already been converted. Identifying really talented staff and organizers who are already out there and encouraging them to get involved.”

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