Bernie Sanders: I will be President for the arts

Bernie Sanders: I will be President for the arts


norman lebrecht

October 01, 2015

Watch his lips: ‘You have my promise… I will be an arts president. I will continue to advocate strongly for robust funding for the arts in our cities, schools and public spaces. Arts is speech. Art is what life is about.’

bernie sanders

What’s not to like?



  • V.Lind says:

    That should play well in the red states.

  • Magnus Still says:

    Wow, that is rare talk! Anywhere in the world.

    • william osborne says:

      If that sort of talk is rare in Europe, it is because they have already had for decades the forms of public arts funding Sanders discusses. The theme would be passé, though it might become more relevant as America continues its pressure on Europe to eliminate public arts funding..

  • william osborne says:

    Sanders’ message is important for two reasons. First, the arts should be publically funded, and second, they should be funded by *all levels* of government. This is important because culture is by nature inherently local. Sadly, this understanding is a significant threat to our centralized, corporatized plutocracy, which to maintain its power must prevent or weaken localized economies and cultures.

    The USA was essentially founded as a country where a strongly centralized capitalism would supersede regionalism and democracy, as the Federalist Papers illustrate. Perhaps the clearest example is Federalist No. 10, in which Madison discusses the means of preventing rule by majority and advocates a large, commercial republic. Alexander Hamilton, whose worldview was strongly shaped by his early career as a Caribbean slave driver, greatly expanded on Madison’s ideas. The constitutionalization of human slavery 1500 years after it had ceased to exist in Europe, was just one of the problems created by the Federalists that plague the USA to this day. The forms of social democracy advocated by Sanders, and used by every other developed country, are thus all but constitutionally impossible in America.

    We thus see that all other developed countries have long had comprehensive systems of public arts funding, and that the norm is for this funding to be divided between the various levels of government with the majority of the funding administered on the municipal and state levels. The private and overtly plutocratic system used by the USA is an 18th century anachronism, entirely isolated, and obviously dysfunctional. In the eyes of informed Europeans, it’s about as odd and outdated as Hamilton’s worldview as an 18th century slave driver.

    The unfortunate truth is that Sanders will not be elected because under our form of unmitigated capitalism, our presidency, congress, and justice system are essentially for sale to the highest bidders – just as Madison and Hamilton envisioned. Needless to say, that is not democracy which makes our elections a farce.

    In our world of myriad interconnections, this history shows up today in the American emphasis on entrepreneurial classical musicians who are to make their way in a system of extremist capitalism. Remember the worldview of the slave driver Hamilton the next time you see one of those careerist sharpies on the make in our massively ghettoized cities. This historical continuities and interconnections begin to emerge and you see the less fortunate side of what America is. And of course, your brainwashed fellow citizens will cover their eyes and insist you’re crazy.

    At least Sanders will spread a little truth before he is pushed to the side in our “large, commercial republic.”

  • Extreme idiot says:

    The people who say Sanders is ok but he can’t win are his biggest obstacle, not the opposition.

    • william osborne says:

      No, those who say he can’t win are just telling the truth. His biggest obstacle is that we do not live in a democracy, but in a plutocracy where our political system is bought, not elected.

  • T. Manor says:

    Reason #102 why this nutcase will never be president.

    • william osborne says:

      European readers should know that in the USA, public arts funding is considered insanity. And of course, the country has exactly the cultural life and social climate to illustrate that view…

      • CDH says:

        Yes: thanks for Roseanne, Jerry Springer, comic-book hero films, etc. Couldn’t live without them. And of course a diet of such things generates the electorate you have become stuck with. Ignorant, prejudiced and almost religiously no accident, that) anti-intellectual.

        God Help America.

        • Milka says:

          And europe has Bocelli , don’t forget europe also gave us the dreadful three tenors , one
          could go on and on ,also one wonders what sort of european electorate is generated by Rieu . There is the observation about living in glass houses .

          • william osborne says:

            The issue is not to eliminate popular culture, but to have a reasonable counter-balance with more substantial forms of art. Europe does that fairly well, the USA less so.

          • Holger H. says:

            Two tenors, not three. One was born in America.

      • Bill H. says:

        Yes, in the USA we instead use tax dollars to fund new sports stadiums for billionaire team owners.

        • Holger H. says:

          Most of your tax money is used for your war expenses though classical warfare and modern/secret. You need it, it’s the only way to assure, that the rest of the world accepts your fiat money as world economy’s currenxy… at gunpoint.

      • Az Opera Fan says:

        I can’t agree with your damning of American culture. You may not like the current culture, but that’s your problem. In fact, our culture is very much alive and thriving. Any list of the best orchestras in the world will have to include Cleveland, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles…and the list goes on. All privately funded. You want great opera? The Met is better, bigger, and more famous than any in the world. And then, think of the thousands of smaller, regional orchestras that are everywhere. And the community choirs. Opera companies in practically every state. Classical music may not be as popular as it was several generations ago, but that’s true everywhere, not just in the US.
        American culture, both good and bad, has spread throughout the world. American TV shows are known everywhere. And it’s not all bad. Yes we have Jerry Springer. But The Walking Dead, The Simpsons, and The Strain are brilliant. That’s what Downton Abbey needs – some zombies to make it interesting.
        I can’t stand contemporary American music – the rap, hip-hop crap is horrible. But it’s alive and thriving -and that is what capitalism brings: life, energy, growth. Eventually the wheat is separated from the chaff. I wish everybody here loved orchestral music. But they never have and never will. Classical music has always, every where been of interest to a small minority of people.
        It is tempting to say we should have the public fund the arts, but big government is not what is wanted. You know the one about whoever pays the piper names the tunes? No thanks! The public does enough paying for concert halls. And Bernie Sanders is a nut.

        • william osborne says:

          An irony in AZ Opera Fan’s remarks, since Phoenix with a metro population of 3.25 million and enormous wealth, ranks 304th in the world for opera performances per year. As he or she illustrates, Americans take great pride in being rinky-dink.

          Another irony in AZ Fan’s comment about who paid the piper. He or she might want to read Frances Stonor Saunders’ revealing book, “Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War” which is a history of the CIA’s devious, secret manipulation of the American arts world during the 50s and 60s to move it to a less political and more rightwing stance. We see today the results of a depoliticized arts world. No wonder we esteem TV shows like “The Walking Dead.” The ironies never cease. Maybe we can get our politics from the Simpsons…

          • william osborne says:

            BTW, the average salary of America’s regional orchestras is only $13,000 per year. More of that great American system…

        • Ppellay says:

          And with that attitude one has all the proof one needs to conclude that the present culture that America has is precisely the culture America deserves, no more. Of course, for the rest of us, that’s another story entirely…….

        • Nick says:

          @AZ OPERA FAN,


          ‘Any list of the best orchestras in the world will have to include …Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles…’

          Wow! (all 4 have not performed on an admirable level since the late 80’s!)

          ‘The Met is better, bigger, and more famous than any in the world.’

          Wow! Just, wow…

          ‘American culture, both good and bad, has spread throughout the world…
          The Walking Dead and The Strain are brilliant. That’s what Downton Abbey needs – some zombies to make it interesting.’

          Wow! If you consider this and these a good thing…gotta say it again, WOW!

          Jesus wept…

      • Mark Henriksen says:

        You consistently offer solutions in search of a problem. Arts funding in the US is by RICH PEOPLE. The US has more billionaires than all of Europe. As a result, an orchestra such as the Boston Symphony has an endowment of 413 million dollars. Cleveland is the 48th most populace city in the US and has an orchestra that sounds better than any European orchestra. Wuppertal has a similar population, what does their orchestra sound like?

        • Nick says:

          ‘Cleveland is the 48th most populace city in the US and has an orchestra that sounds better than any European orchestra.’

          You must be deaf.


          • Christy says:

            You may not be deaf but you have a very limited vocabulary.


            I learned a long time ago that the most powerful and most successful are regularly attacked by the most insecure. I wonder if this explains the constant America-bashing in these comment sections.

        • CDH says:

          Would that be “populous”? The way we spell that word outside the soi-disant culturally superior US, whose populace is getting dimmer by the second.

          Claiming a zombie series, however well done (thanks in no small part to Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey, both ENGLISH), as an exemplar of the quality of US artistic achievement is essentially living the problem. The title has far wider resonance in the context of these arguments.

        • william osborne says:

          One can name a similar number of German orchestras equal to the top ensembles in the USA, especially on a per capita basis. The difference is the democratic distribution of arts funding in Europe. In general, even moderately sized cities have rich cultural lives. This is contrasted in the States where the arts are concentrated in a few financial centers where the wealthy live. As a case in point, Germany has 83 full time opera houses while the USA with four times the population has about 6 genuinely functional opera houses, and 5 of those have seasons of a half a year or less.

  • V.Lind says:

    I would have thought the greatest impediment to his getting elected would be his age, though he seems a fascinating character. But, as has been pointed out, not sufficiently a creature of the special interests to get the support necessary.

  • A Met Fan says:

    Every American concerned about the future of culture in our nation ought to be grateful that Bernie Sanders has even uttered the word “arts”. Sadly, it has become a forbidden topic in the U.S., both in politics and in our educational system. Thank you, Mr. Sanders, for being brave enough to include and to justify the arts as part of the greater conversation.

    • william osborne says:

      “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.” –Joseph Stalin

      Sanders is a politician with ideas. Totalizing forms of government don’t like that.

  • Holger H. says:

    That’s not how you win elections in the land of the two-parties-dictatorship.

  • David says:

    The problem with Sanders is he wants to ratchet up our already high taxes to pay for any number of things on his list. I don’t agree with all the defense spending that the US does. I just don’t want to place my money in a socialist’s hands. When asked where all this money might come from to pay for the arts and the rest of his laundry list, Mr. Sanders is not forthcoming. Besides, the reality is, he won’t win the Democratic nomination and he would never win the Presidency.

    • Holger H. says:

      Where the money for the arts is supposed to come from? That’s easy. Reduce military spending by 0.001% percent. Enough money for generous public art subsidies.