Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why FDR is the Coolest: a Fable

The subject of the Federal Work programs of the 1930's has come up a couple of times this week, and I thought I would celebrate it here, because it was a rare moment in American history and gives me hope about the future of the arts in this country.
Once upon a time, the country was awash in prosperity at the hands of a new fangled invention: the stock market. For reasons that have nothing to do with the arts, the market crashed and plunged the country into a great depression - the Great Depression, in fact. Bread lines. Extreme poverty. Former millionaires jumping out of skyscrapers. The president pretended there wasn't actually a problem, and soon, he wasn't president anymore. The new president had all these great plans to get the country out of this terrible depression, most of which congress wanted no part of. However, one plan, the Federal Work Project, that went through for a glorious few years. FDR thought it was not only silly, but bad for America for violists to build roads, or dancers to work at Woolworths, so he established various federally funded arts organizations (the Federal Theatre project, being one) to get artists working doing art. Sculptors sculpted statutes. Musicians played symphonies. Actors acted in plays. It was a beautiful thing.
But like so many beautiful things, it had to be stomped to death. Wasn't this just like communism? And what were these plays and sculptures and symphonies really about? Were they really proper American work, or red-commie-propaganda? No one really wanted to know the answer so, it all stopped.
Democrats have been paying for that glorious moment in the early 30's and in the mid-sixties, when liberal became associated with terrible things. Like free art, equal protection under the law, and, worst of all, government subsidy.

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