Our “Mitt Romney Says He Would Ax Arts Funding If Elected” made it into Reddit’s popular Politics subreddit and the 200+ resulting comments are an interesting look into the hive mind of a social news network that often ridicules contemporary art, particularly performance art.

Here, in the politics section, most people are surprisingly supportive of the notion of arts funding, and the conversation is diverse (free-wheeling?) and full of humor.

Here are some of interesting conversations on the thread:

headfullofuselessnes: OK, so now you’ve restored one or two pennies to my paycheck. Now what? >

MrBooks: Your job gets outsourced… and the owner gets a new yacht. >

ChaoticAgenda: I stand secure knowing that it will at least be an ugly yacht, seeing as how the arts have been cut. >

VoiceofCivilization: You assume it will be made in US. >

powernut: Time to give those pennies back to the billionaires. >

BigClifty: Don’t worry we’ll get those pennies back once they trickle back down. >

Wisdom_from_the_Ages: By that, do you mean when we storm their mansions and they pour molten metal on us from the roofs? >

Another thread:

FallingSnowAngel: To be fair, too many posters on Reddit laugh at the art majors, downvote any use of metaphor, and compare performance art to a mental illness.

If they had their way, funding for the arts would just reward people for taking the best screenshots. >

Jman5: It’s just the demographic of Reddit. Lots of STEM oriented people who can’t relate to art-fields as much. You can’t quantify creative industries as easily, which is why they tend to downplay its importance. >

LOL:

onique: I wish I had the jar form piss christ right about now, id toss it in his general direction. >

Heady:

arekabsolute: Honest question: What part of the Constitution gives the government the job of funding art? >

yajnavalkya: Your question is based on a faulty premise. The government doesn’t have the job of funding art; it could stop tomorrow or double the funding at any point.

The onus is on you to make an argument that funding art is unconstitutional if that’s what you want to say. However such an argument is very quickly going to invalidate a lot of what the government does. Like how could the government subsidize any industry, if subsidizing this particular industry is unconstitutional?

However, there are a few possible answers to the similar, but distinct question “What part of the constitution gives the government the authority to fund arts?”:

Article 1 section 8 clause 1

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

If you could make an argument that art is part of the “general welfare” of the United States, which I believe it is, then this is all you need to know. Congress can even lay taxes specifically to promote it if they wanted to.

Article 1 section 8 clause 3

[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;

Because this is capitalism, the creation and consumption of art is essentially the same as producing, buying, and selling anything else. If this could be argued to impact international or interstate trade as well as trade with Native tribes, and it can, then congress has the authority to regulate it. Just as congress has had the authority to censor art and media throughout our entire history, they can also promote it.

Also, as ChuckEye also mentioned

Article 1 Section 8 Clause 8

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Now the question here is how limited is this power? Does this clause only give congress the authority to protect intellectual property? Or does it give congress the duty to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” by means that may exceed merely establishing copyright and patents. It’s a question for constitutional scholars that I’m sure could be researched more fully.

Finally

Article 1 section 8 clause 18

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

This is referred to as the Elastic Clause for good reason. Basically anything can be argued to be a power of congress if you want. There is a nice potential synergy between this one and clause 8. Congress has the power to make any law which is necessary and proper for the execution of “promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” But even that may be unnecessary if you can make an argument that promoting the arts is proper for executing any other sentence in the entire constitution.

So it’s not a hard argument to make that congress has the authority to fund the arts. Whether or not you personally believe congress should is a different question. >

 arekabsolute:

The onus is on you to make an argument that funding art is unconstitutional if that’s what you want to say. However such an argument is very quickly going to invalidate a lot of what the government does. Like how could the government subsidize any industry, if subsidizing this particular industry is unconstitutional?

How do you reconcile that with the Tenth Amendment?

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

As I read it, this means rather specifically that if the Constitution doesn’t say it, the government can’t do it. The onus is thus necessarily on the government to prove it has that right, because otherwise it’s expressly forbidden. Yes, my argument might invalidate a lot of what the government does. People learned that it’s easier to grasp at straws and work around the constitution than to amend it properly. For example, arguing that art is in the “general welfare” or is “interstate commerce,” is something I can only see as working around the Constitution, not through it. Even if you can sneak it into the definitions of the words used, it’s because you went out of your way to avoid the point. It’s no different than if I argue that vacation and beer keep me from being an insufferable asshole, so it’s in the general welfare to have that federally funded.

Speaking of which, I think the insufferable asshole in me is coming out again. Time for a beer! >

yajnavalkya:

For example, arguing that art is in the “general welfare” or is “interstate commerce,” is something I can only see as working around the Constitution, not through it. Even if you can sneak it into the definitions of the words used, it’s because you went out of your way to avoid the point.

That’s why we have courts and scholars. Because you say I’m avoiding the point or twisting definitions and I say I’m following the point to the letter. General welfare, for me, certainly includes the promotion of art and culture. Art, I’d assert, is undeniably an aspect of interstate commerce. And you might disagree. Now I assume neither of us are constitutional scholars, so the decision shouldn’t fall on us. But hypothetically some people are and so they should be able to debate on the issue and come to a conclusion and if impartial judges decide one way or the other they can follow the process to annul or protect the various acts of congress.

Now in regards to the Tenth Amendment, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1931 United States vs Sprague that the tenth amendment was essentially a truism and “added nothing to the [Constitution] as originally ratified.”

From the 1941 decision United States v. Darby

The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered. There is nothing in the history of its adoption to suggest that it was more than declaratory of the relationship between the national and state governments as it had been established by the Constitution before the amendment or that its purpose was other than to allay fears that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted, and that the states might not be able to exercise fully their reserved powers…..

And to be frank this makes sense to me. Why would the constitution be read any other way than “these and only these are the powers of the federal government?” The courts have found on numerous occasions that an amendment reasserting that does not reduce the powers of the federal government.

So once again, I say that the onus is on you to say that Art is not interstate commerce nor an aspect of our general welfare or similarly unconstitutional if you want to make that argument. As far as a beer keeping you happy is concerned, you’re welcome to argue that your happiness is part of the general welfare of the country, and you should, but I remind you that Article 1 section 8 clause 1 says

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;

Congress has the power to do it, not that congress must do it. Even if your beer is part of the general welfare, congress need not necessarily buy you one, they just could if they wanted to.

That being said, it’s unlikely that a court would back you on that. Which is too bad, because that would have been a landmark case and I too would like to pursue happiness with a beer.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.