The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Presidential debates should include questions about funding and supporting the arts and humanities | October 27, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, well.

Tomorrow night — from 7 to 9 p.m. CDT on CNBC — there will be another presidential debate.

The always astonishing and amazing Republicans, led by the always astonishing and amazing Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, will debate in Boulder, Colorado.

Republican presidential debate

The Ear has watched three presidential debates so far — two Republican and one Democratic.

But he still has no idea of where the various candidates on both sides stand when it comes to government support of the arts –- including music — and the humanities.

Please tell us, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, what you think?

bernie sanders and hillary clinton in presidential debate

And you too, Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and John Kasich and ….

Do you want to defund PBS?

pbs logo in black

Or defund NPR?


Or will you support these important and historic cultural commitments? Why or why not?

Along the same lines, do you want to defund, sustain or enhance the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?

Why or why not?

Some funny reasoning is going on here. Some of the candidates want to eliminate all subsidies to the arts, which are a form of economic development after all – at a time when a lot of conservatives don’t mind funding big rich corporations in the same name of economic development.

The arts create a lot of jobs and spark a lot of spending and stimulus. Or don’t the culture-challenged charlatans realize that?

Stop and think a minute about the local situation. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center (below), public schools, the University of Wisconsin and its School of Music — all rely in part on public funding. They employ a lot of people and generate a lot of value.


Don’t these issues deserve a public airing? Doesn’t the arts consuming public have a right to know where the various candidates stand on these issues? Shouldn’t voters know what they might be getting in those areas?

As The Ear understand its, one flank of the attack has to do with the so called left-leaning liberal or progressive bias and politics of PBS and NPR.

Plus, there is the view that the art that public taxpayer money is helping to create doesn’t defend the so-called family values that the most radically conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals want defended.

The other flank of the attack has to do with the stance that government should be smaller and that therefore should be funding less in general.

Makes you wonder just how the radical “freedom coalition” and Tea Party people in South Carolina, Texas and California feel about having a smaller government when it comes to providing aid for victims of torrential floods and devastating wildfires. And how is that kind of help for those in need different from funding education or health care?

California wildfires 2015 nbcnews

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25, 2015 Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TX – MAY 25, 2015
Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015.
(Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

Anyway, wouldn’t it be appropriate for some of the panelists to question the candidates on the issues pertaining to the arts and humanities?

The Ear is reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment during World War II. Some members of the British Parliament asked him if funding for the arts shouldn’t be cut and used instead to fight Hitler and the Nazis. He said no and added, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

winston churchill

Tell the Ear what you think. Leave a COMMENT.

Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and pass it along and we will finally get a substantive discussion from the candidates about where they stand on arts and humanities funding by the federal government.



  1. The argument for defunding PBS and NPR isn’t because they have arts programming. (Although generally it’s mediocre — my local NPR station’s classical content is “mostly Mozart,” almost nothing unusual or challenging.) The argument is that they are taking public funds and using them to spread cultural Marxist propaganda. Why should taxpayers be forced to subsidize left-wing biased programming?

    I know, I know — you are living in your academic bubble and it doesn’t seem to you that it’s leftist because that’s all you hear every day. Sorry to burst your bubble (probably can’t be done, but I try when I can), but the one-sided “education” you are getting is part of a totalitarian regime of globalism and population replacement.

    If public broadcasting were honest and stuck to culture, I’d be all for funding it as a public good. But it isn’t.

    Comment by Rick Darby — February 4, 2016 @ 8:19 am

    • Rick,
      Thanks for reading and responding.
      Sorry about the mostly mediocre mostly Mozart programming. Ours here is much better.
      But Marxist? Totalitarian?
      You’re kidding but you’r not I know.
      Sorry, that’s just not the PBS or NPR, let alone the NEA and NEH, that I know.
      Talk about propaganda, your insulting invective against me is full of it.
      What you say cites no facts and wreaks of Bill O’Reilly and his “fair and balanced” colleagues at FOX or Rush Limbaugh.
      But I know that I won’t convince you and you won’t convince me.
      Guess we have to agree to disagree.
      No PBS and NPR for you; no public corporate welfare and dumb wars for me.
      Be well and thanks for reading.
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 4, 2016 @ 9:04 am

  2. Great column, Jake! Winston’s WWII comment is the one we need to remember and use when talking with those who think the arts are peripheral. He carries an authority that few of us do.

    Comment by marti phillips — October 27, 2015 @ 7:08 pm

  3. I don’t know that I would trust any of the candidates to know the difference between art and entertainment. Most Americans don’t; they suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I have little hope that the treasures of the imagination are going to survive another hundred years no matter who is in office.

    Comment by Susan Fiore — October 27, 2015 @ 7:44 am

  4. Thanks, Ear, for sticking up for the arts, NPR, PBS… and for making other connections that few others will.

    Comment by John Pass — October 27, 2015 @ 7:19 am

  5. A five star column. And courageous. Kudos to the blogger/writer.

    But I’m afraid it goes far beyond just a question of funding to the arts. One party has been taken over by a reactionary, extremist minority that: denies climate change and global warming; denies the science behind it; denies Darwinian evolution (because that is contrary to their religious beliefs of a God revealed in the Bible who created the world in 7 days and just a few thousand years ago); denies the science behind geology (for the same reasons); and attacks public education.

    The University of Wisconsin, Madison, is not being attacked by these people because it is a failure. On the contrary, it is being attacked because it has been a success for over 150 years.

    According to the philosophy of Ronald Reagan and his demented modern day supporters, anything related to government must be bad. So how could a state run university be any good? Anything that provides proof to the contrary must be destroyed and that really is what is behind the attacks on the university today by Gov. Walker and his allies.

    Even though the evidence to the contrary is all around them: in medicine; in music and the arts; in agriculture (look at where Wisconsin’s milk industry and the Babcock test came from); in the climate; they are attacking the university, and public education in general, because it does not fit in with their “world view”. Public is bad, private is good. And if a small group of people with these ideas has the support of a few billionaires to spend on campaigns and television, they can win elections, as we have seen.

    Nor does it help that the other major political party, the Democratic party, appears often to be the the other arm of the Republican party, to paraphrase Gore Vidal (who knew a thing or two about history, politics, and the arts), a second branch of the corporate party. They have not stood up strongly enough to defend public education, public funding for the arts and so on, probably because they to do not believe in them. And neither one of the major candidates running for the presidency on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders (graduate of the University of Chicago) or Hillary Clinton (Yale U. grad) has spent a day in public education themselves. That is also true of Barack Obama (who attended the ultra exclusive and expensive Punahou prep school in Hawaii before he went to Columbia and then Harvard Law School), virtually every judge on the Supreme Court, and virtually every Cabinet member chosen by President Obama.

    As for the Republican candidates, Trump went to business school at the Ivy League, U. of Pennsylvania; Dr. Carson went to the private Johns Hopkins; Carly Fiorina went to Stanford; and so on. And, of course, before dropping out of his presidential race, Scott Walker had dropped out of the private Marquette University.

    We need to have more people who have actually benefited from public education running for politics. We need more people who are in the arts to put down their instruments and batons and start speaking out as well. And we must realize, that issues like funding to the arts, are tied to other issues like attitudes toward government, public education, climate change and global warming.

    Comment by fflambeau — October 27, 2015 @ 3:06 am

    • “We need more people who are in the arts to put down their instruments and batons and start speaking out as well. And we must realize, that issues like funding to the arts, are tied to other issues like attitudes toward government, public education, climate change and global warming.”
      Yes! 100% spot on.

      Comment by John Pass — October 27, 2015 @ 7:17 am

  6. I would like to share your comments on my Facebook page but don’t seem to be able to do that. Any advice?

    Comment by Wini — October 27, 2015 @ 1:43 am

    • Wini: highlight, copy and paste to the “what’s on your mind” section of Facebook. Hope that helped 🙂

      Comment by John Pass — October 27, 2015 @ 7:00 am

    • Hi Wini,
      Thank you for your kind words.
      There is now a link to the column on my Facebook page.
      I usually do it most mornings.
      So you should go there and share it with FB friends or the general public with a single click.
      Hope that helps.
      Best wishes to you and Glenn.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 27, 2015 @ 7:49 am

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