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Friday, June 10, 2005

No Child Left Unpunished.

In a striking move that demonstrates their passionate commitment to children, the Republican dominated House of Representatives is apparently trying to put the axe to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. According to an article in today's Washington Post a house subcommittee voted to eliminate all funding for public broadcasting within two years, starting with a 25% reduction in next year's budget.

Democratic opponents were quick to respond to this latest move in the longstanding Republican war on the public broadcast system:

"Americans overwhelmingly see public broadcasting as an unbiased information source," Rep. David Obey (Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said in a statement. "Perhaps that's what the GOP finds so offensive about it. Republican leaders are trying to bring every facet of the federal government under their control. . . . Now they are trying to put their ideological stamp on public broadcasting."

Republicans argue that this move is not politically motivated but, rather, is simply a consequence of budgetary necessities. Some projects are simply more deserving of funding than others. According to the committee chairman, Republican Ralph Regula (Ohio) (And god I wish he was from Rhode Island, just for the alliteration):

The subcommittee had to decide, he said, on cutting money for public broadcasting or cutting college grants, special education, worker retraining and health care programs. "No one's out to get" public broadcasting, Regula said. "It's not punitive in any way."

Well, it's hard to argue with that. I like special education, and worker retraining and health care. I guess it is hard to find ways to keep all programs. And the Republicans are even offering some helpful suggestions for how public broadcasting can survive:

Regula suggested public stations could "make do" without federal money by getting more funding from private sources, such as contributions from corporations...

Sounds reasonable, except for the small point that accepting lots of funding from corporations would turn public broadcasting into private broadcasting. I think most of us know not to bite the hand that feeds us, and I doubt that Public Broadcasting will differ noticeably in that. This is particularly the case since, and let's face it here, those stations that continue airing stories that are not always sympathetic to large corporate interests (i.e. the facts) simply won't receive funding, and thus will go off the air. Natural selection can be a bitch.

It's not that I hate corporations, it's just that I love free speech. Public broadcasting is, relatively speaking, quite cheap, and it serves a very valuable purpose. This is particularly the case for children, who receive educational programming through it that they simply do not receive through private broadcasting sources. For children in underpriviledged areas, whose parents cannot afford fancy preschools, Sesame Street may well be the best education they can hope for short of their formal school system- which may itself be something of a joke. By attempting to throttle the CPB the Republicans are giving lie to their commitment to children, and are instead revealing their true colors.

PBS, in particular, drew harsh criticism in December from the Bush administration for a "Postcards From Buster" episode in which Buster, an animated rabbit, "visited" two families in Vermont headed by lesbians. And programming on both PBS and NPR has come under fire in recent months from Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the CPB, who has pushed for greater "balance" on the public airwaves.

The Republicans aren't so much for children as they are against tolerance. Still, as angry as I am at this, I really can't bring myself to do much more than pity the Republican supporters of this initiative. It must be a terrible thing to be so small of heart, and puny of mind, that you think it's worth harming the educational potential of millions of children solely to prevent them from learning to tolerate groups you may not feel totally comfortable with. Apparently the ability to hate is too important to be sacrificed for such trivial causes as reading, and 'riting and 'rithmetic.

Then again, maybe I am being a little hard. Maybe Ralph Regula is telling the truth about the need to juggle budget priorities. After all, the Republicans are the party of frugality- it isn't like they're just throwing money away on projects that are run so poorly they can't possibly work.

Are they?


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