October 29, 2007

Corporate Hippies Need Federal Funding

The Boston Globe tries explaining to the rest of the nation that the Woodstock Museum, which John McCain has adopted as his primary Hillary Clinton target, isn't the hippie hangout that people believe. It created jobs, allowed for music to remain at Max Yazgur's farm, and helped a county economy recover from recession. However, nowhere in this article does anyone explain why the project should receive federal funds:

The emerald hill at Yasgur's Farm is quiet now, the electrified sounds of Jimi Hendrix and other performers from the Woodstock concert of 1969 long since faded. But at the hillcrest rises an extraordinary sight: a $100 million Tanglewood-style concert pavilion and an adjoining museum that soon will tell the story of the 1960s with exhibits such as "The Hippies" and "Three Days of Peace and Music." ....

So Gerry's nonprofit family foundation kicked in nearly $85 million for the facility, which also received $16.5 million in funds from New York taxpayers during the administration of Governor George Pataki, a Republican who backed the project. The $1 million in federal funds was almost an afterthought.

Yet, the funding was sought around the same time that Gerry and his family contributed $9,200 to Clinton's presidential campaign, and $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, led by New York's other senator, Charles E. Schumer. Gerry, who declined to interviewed, said earlier this month in a television interview that the timing of the contributions was a coincidence.

He has also defended the museum as commemorating an important cultural event.

"It is not a hippie museum," said Gerry's chief of staff, Darrell Supak, who spoke for the businessman. Supak said the foundation envisions baby boomer parents arriving in minivans to teach their children about Woodstock. It is, he said, designed for family-friendly entertainment, scoffing at McCain's drug-infused description.

The problem at the heart of this article is an assumption that federal dollars are some sort of entitlement to local projects if one can make a good enough case for its moral superiority. The Woodstock Museum may well have transformed the local economy. It might capture the essence of the turbulent era that the original concert epitomized. The museum could capture the "perspective the events of the 1960s, including the Vietnam War and the assassination of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King".

It still doesn't mean that taxpayers in Arizona, Minnesota, and Florida should fund it.

The Globe tries to make this a partisan issue in response to McCain's tweaking of Hillary by noting that Republican Governor George Pataki supported state funding for the museum. However, that keeps funding for the project as a state issue, not a federal issue. Pataki had accountability to New York voters, as did their legislature. New York voters get to make decisions on how New York tax money gets spent -- and it gets spent in New York.

The newspaper also notes that the museum was the only earmark stripped out of the bill, while over $500 million in earmarks remained. It's a curious kind of teenager argument; if everyone else gets earmarks, why can't we? That thinking is what keeps earmarks alive at all. Politicians make excuses for funding these kind of pet projects -- hippie museums, bike trails, National Council of La Raza -- by saying that everyone else divvies up federal money for their constituents, so it's unfair if my constituents don't get their pork, too.

We started with the Woodstock Museum earmark. We want to get around to the others, too. Instead of sending pork-barrel projects that benefit contributors back to the districts, we want the money for these vanity programs to stop going to Washington altogether. If we could keep more of our money in our own communities, then we could decide locally what really matters to us, rather than what matters to politicians in DC and their lobbyist and contributor cronies.

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