As I have been reading the transcript of the conference call coordinated by the White House and the supposedly non-partisan National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), various bloggers’ reactions to this attempt to use art to promote the president’s agenda, I have scribbled a number of notes for a potential on the topic. But, the thing that strikes me more than anything else, particularly as I review that transcript is this: what is a person like Buffy Wicks doing working in the White House?
As we learn more about her background (which includes ties to ACORN), we help confirm Michael Barone’s point that “Most of Obama’s top White House staffers are politics operatives, not policy wonks.” She has activism and political agitation in her blood. No wonder they renamed the office where she works Office of Public Engagement (it had been the Office of Public Liaison). Her record suggests she’s all about using her government job to mobilize the masses.
As do her actual words in the conference call:
I’m honored to be on the call, and I just, you know, it’s been a long road I know for a lot of us, and we’re really just beginning. I, first of all, want to thank everyone for being on the call and really just a deep, deep appreciation for all the work that you all put into the campaign for the two plus years that we all worked together. . . .
And, you know, we won and that’s exciting, and now we have to take all that energy and make it really meaningful. I’m in the White House now and . . . I’m really realizing that, and I’m also appreciative of the way in which we did win and the strategy that the campaign shows, which is really to engage people at a local level and to engage them in the process, because we need them and we need you, and we’re going to need your help, and we’re going to come at you with some specific asks here. . . . .
So we focus on the four main areas: One is health care. Obviously, that’s a big issue. … Second was energy and environment. And so we worked a lot with the Department of Interior. I know I’m throwing a lot of government stuff at you guys, so bear with me. It’s the world we live in now. We’re actually running the government.
We need your guys’s help to promote this. We know that you all have channels and ability to get the message out far greater than we do here and the president’s put out the call. And that’s who we have to push this forward, and he speaks to a lot of people, so does our First Lady and so do our cabinet secretaries. But we know that you all are very powerful voices of change in your own right, and we’re looking to you for your help on that.
What does any of this have to do with “supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education“? You know, the mission of the federally funded NEA. Ms. Wicks wants to enlist artists in a type of political campaign to promote the president’s agenda.
This isn’t about crafting speeches to promote his policies, an entirely legitimate use of White House staff, but about coordinating a type of political campaign from the White House.
Perhaps, later, I’ll address the unfortunate polticization of the arts because, for Ms. Wicks, it seems the purpose of art is to serve politics. For now, the issue is of a political organizer operating out of the president’s office–and on the taxpayers’ dime.
That she could use her position in the White House to politicize an independent agency of the federal government indicates she has no business serving there. It’s time for her to go.