The headline blares “Federal Government has Spent Nearly $1 Million on Romance” with a happy pic of Fabio.
My attention was captured. I write romance novels for a living. I wonder about my share of that mill.
The article is about Senator Tom Coburn’s 2013 “Wastebook” cataloguing wasteful government spending. A project studying the impact of the industry surrounding Romance novels, the Romance Project, has received both a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and Senator Coburn’s attention.
That headline makes for great press. The Romance Project is actually only one of a hundred grants the congressman singled out for attention, grants that totaled nearly $30 billion in government spending. A million looks like chump change.
I am prejudiced but I believe there are solid reasons for supporting the Romance Project.
First, surrounding the humble Romance novel is a $1.3 billion dollar industry. It should be studied as we carefully evaluate any industry in this country that brings in revenue.
Second, what we write, read, and create says something about us as a people and a nation. Our culture, including our Pop culture, should be documented.
Third, this grant is a one shot deal. For a million, we gain insight into $1.3 billion. Am I missing something in that tradeoff? Sounds good to me.
However, I also believe the senator has a valid point.
In this time of a fiscal free-for-all, should the National Endowment for the Arts be spending money on studies on our peoplehood?
When we are so deeply in debt, should the Department of the Interior fund grants to track animal behavior in our environment?
Will the money spent on the Green Ninja project to promote climate control literacy in this country help protect our national resources? Or is it a piece of silliness, a diversion too small to have meaning?
And yes, we need math education, but should the federal government be underwriting programs that could also created by the private sector -- if there was a market for it?
Forget grant studies, let’s go for the big bucks: During a time of fiscal constraints, should the federal government be suing states over school vouchers, a program that many claim is raising the standard of education in the areas where they are used?
Or suing over equal opportunity violations? Couldn’t those cases be handled by the wronged parties in private litigations?
The laws are on the books. Must the federal government lead the charge?
How much is all of this litigation costing the taxpayer?
What about policing the world? We spend a fortune on military obligations at the cost of our own personnel. To do more with less, we have cut and cut and cut, until we are in danger of reneging on our contractual promises to the men and women who have served in uniform.
So, perhaps instead of a “Wastebook,” we need to have a national dialogue on Senator Coburn’s more meaningful question -- “what services and missions should our federal government support?”
Let’s ask ourselves what really holds importance for us as a people. And then, let us hone in on the answer with laser intensity.
We might surprise ourselves.
We will certainly save money.