Everything I needed to know about fiscal conservatism I learned from public TV

November 8, 1991

If you are reading this on the job, by the time you finish this paragraph you will have already paid, through withholding, your taxpayer's share of the amount the federal government contributes to public television. Congratulations. Your work is over, but Rep. Newt Gingrich's work continues. He is determined to take away the trifling amount that you already paid to PBS. Whom he plans to give it to, he doesn't say, though he's been talking a lot lately about a capital-gains tax cut.

Gingrich criticizes PBS for what he sees as leftist ideology. Apparently, they've been sharing too much on "Sesame Street." I can see his point of view on the show, "POV," but not on such corporate-sponsored fare as "The MacLaughlin Group" and "Wall Street Week." So far, the amount of taxpayer money Gingrich has spent on the issue, instead of reducing the deficit, could keep PBS going well into the next century. By then term limitations, if implemented as promised, will have displaced every single member of Congress currently in office. To put that in Great Communicator terms, that's enough money to put "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" on Saturn.

It is hard to find a use of taxpayer money that does so much for so little. At almost any given moment of the day, except those times when you should be asleep anyway, you can just flip a switch and it'll be there. Your tax dollar at work. I have never been able to watch PBS for five minutes without learning something I didn't know before. Try saying the same about Rep. Gingrich.

The whole situation echoes the controversy a few years ago about the National Endowment for the Arts. Sen. Jesse Helms diverted Congress' attention away from the deficit for days to discuss the shameful amounts of federal dollars spent on a handful of performance artists. None of these artists received more than $200. Your share of that was paid while you were readjusting your position in your chair.

There are plenty of places to save taxpayer money besides the insignificant amount spent on PBS. Did anybody in Congress ever put a stop to those thousand-dollar coffee pots? At any given moment, can you be sure you're getting your money's worth out of your senator? For a while, C-SPAN, which you have to pay for, used to show enlightening shots of senators and representatives sleeping in Congress. At this moment, can you be sure your senator is awake, much less available to teach your kids their ABC's?

Spending more taxpayer dollars haranguing about an expenditure than the expenditure itself actually cost has earned Gingrich and Helms the description "fiscal conservatives." There are plenty of examples out there of people going to absurd lengths about trivial things. They are called situation comedies, and they are rare on public television, unless they're made in England.

In the time that you have spent reading this, you've paid for one of Gingrich's photo opportunities regarding this shameful waste of taxpayer dollars on "Sesame Street." Again, congratulations. If you clip this for your grandchildren, they can learn why Congress didn't have time to deal with the national debt your grandchildren will be stuck with.

© 1995 Randel Shard. First published in Funny Pages in February 1995.