COWBOY POETRY

22Aug11

THIS IS FROM MARC  STEYN AT NRO-

In the new budget, there’s a request from the CIA for an emergency appropriation of $513.7 million. Great! A mere half-billion. That’s enough for 10,000 cowboy-poetry festivals. So what’s it for? Toppling Kim Jong-Il? Taking out the Iranian nuclear program?

Er, no. It’s an emergency payment to stop the CIA pension fund from going bankrupt next year with unfunded liabilities of $6.4 billion. The CIA failed to foresee the collapse of the Iron Curtain until it happened. It failed to spot that Pakistan was going nuclear until it happened. But, when the world’s most bounteously endowed intelligence agency fails to spot that its own pension fund is going bankrupt until it happens, I wouldn’t bet the future on anyone in the United States government having much of a clue about what is or isn’t “in China’s interest.”

That leaves America to calculate what’s in America’s interest. And Harry Reid seems to have figured that it’s in America’s interest (or, at any rate, his) to spend like there’s no tomorrow even as the clock chimes quarter-to-midnight. And, when the Complacent Caballero tells you that we cannot contemplate doing anything as “mean-spirited” as a $50,000 cut in a poetry festival, he’s telling you it’s over.

What else do we fund apart from cowboy poetry? Well, American taxpayers fund the vast bulk of the rapidly expanding Chinese military merely through interest payments on the debt. This is the point in the cowboy movie when the guy squints through the window of the shack and says, “It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”

What do you need to write cowboy poetry? Words like “tumbleweed” and “chaps.” Also, trochees, spondees, and dactyls. Pencil and paper. Total cost: 79 cents. Maybe you and a half-dozen other cowboy poets like to book the back room at the local bar once a month for an evening of cowboy poetry and a few beers. Total cost: couple hundred bucks. Maybe folks get word and you figure you should get a bigger room and invite the public and charge a three-dollar admission. Why does any of this require national subsidies managed by a distant bureaucracy thousands of miles away?

Well, because these days, what doesn’t? Once upon a time, the cowboy embodied the rugged individualism of the frontier. In Harry Reid’s world, he embodies dependency without end. To “preserve” the “tradition,” it is necessary to invert everything the tradition represents: From true grit to federally funded grit. Thus America, bouncing along in the Dead Wood Stage of history.

Whipcrack-away, whipcrack-away, whipcrack-away!

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone.© 2011 Mark Steyn.

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