The bizarre spectacle that passes for national political discourse reached out and slapped Baltimore the other day, courtesy of Glenn Beck. I didn't think this guy could get sillier -- he's long been thoughtless to a fault -- but he did, and since he picked on something near and dear, I just couldn't let it go without comment.
In one of his by now terribly familiar, predictable tirades against -- well, against everybody not like him and everything that doesn't conform to his ideas of what the world should be -- Beck singled out cities with budget crises where they're cutting back on police, but not slashing the funding for such things as libraries, museums and, in Baltimore, the Lyric Opera House -- a.k.a. the "stupid, snotty opera house."
Beck claimed that $750,000 was in the budget for that historic venue in our fair city, while "cops are on the chopping block. This is like my wife saying we are broke, we have to cut down our expenses on food. I turn around and say, OK, when you grocery shop, no more meats, organics, milk — we're cutting that out. Just get
Mountain Dew and Cheetos ... How about we get the rich who never pay their fair share to buy their stupid snotty opera house? Would you cut the opera house or the cops? ... What does your gut tell you? That everybody involved in this is moron?"
Memo to Beck: Be careful when you throw around the word "moron."
For starters, the figure is not $750,000, but $1 million. (That should really put a tear in poor Glenn's eye.) Perhaps the crack researchers for Beck's show misread the 2008 bond issue through which Baltimore's citizens voted to approve a bond issue to borrow $1 million for the Lyric Opera House, $750,000 for the Baltimore Museum of Art, and lots of other money for lots of other cultural institutions. Sixty-five percent of the vote was in favor of the opera house bond issue, by the way. Are all of those affirmative voters morons?
Here's another inconvenient fact: Baltimore has not been cutting cops. The mayor has even proposed adding 450 of them by 2011.
Given Beck's cavalier treatment of Baltimore's reality, I wonder how much credence should be given to his rant against other cities:
It's like the damn planet of the apes. Nothing makes sense! ... The cops have to go, yet in Oakland [Calif.] they keep $7 million in costs for museums. You will lose the art in the riots anyway ... Newark has $39,608,662 set aside for Neighborhood and Recreational Services ... I think we can cut back on all the good times in Newark before slashing the cops. Philadelphia can save a couple cops right off the bat by cutting the $1 million set aside for mural arts — they already do that for free: It's called graffiti — or the $32 million for 'free libraries' — now, I love to read as much as the next guy, but you can't read when blood is pouring down your face.
Maybe if Beck spent more serious time in libraries, he'd get his facts straight and, maybe, notice what an essential role they play in the a city's life. Maybe -- this is too much to hope for, I know -- he'll find time to visit a museum or an opera house or a concert hall and come to see how important they are, too. (Mocking people who cherish the arts is one of the oldest, not to mention stupidest and snottiest, tricks in the demagogic business.)
Tough choices in tough times mean that lots of public services will be threatened in lots of places, but it's possible -- I would say necessary -- to cope with economic pressures without sacrificing the things that help make us civilized.
As for that "rich who never pay their fair share" part of Beck's nonsensical tirade, maybe he was trying some sarcastic humor. The rich obviously give plenty to the arts on a yearly basis; without them, most nonprofits couldn't exist. I doubt Beck had any idea what he was saying when he threw in that phrase.
One more thing. The Lyric Opera House is not an opera-only place. Never has been. In its 100-plus years (it sounds like Beck actually thought this was a new building, rather than a long-established one -- like I said, a little research before shooting from the lip wouldn't hurt), the Lyric has been home to orchestra concerts, dance, pop music, theater, comedy, lectures, just about everything. It strives to reach a broad part of the community, just like our music organizations and museums do.
The money voters approved will go to badly needed renovations, so the Lyric can offer even more entertainment, bigger and better productions. And a thriving Lyric would help area businesses, from parking garages to restaurants. And that would help the city's economy. And, gee, wouldn't that be sort of, kind of, I don't know, maybe, like, a good thing? (I almost said a "progressive" thing, but I know how that word gets the veins pumping dangerously on Beck's neck.)
Call me stupid, call me snotty, but I say that Baltimore is better off for having the Lyric Opera House. On the other hand, I can't see how the country is better off for having issues of substance and importance discussed by the likes of Glenn Beck.
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