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Despite securing $25 million with help from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has announced that it will fire the 96-members National Symphony Orchestra (NSO).
How ironic that Nervous Nancy told CNN on Sunday that “as the president fiddles, people are dying.” She, of course, fiddled like Itzhak Perlman last week, when her 1,404-page, far-left ultimatum derailed a bipartisan Senate bill within hours of passage on Sunday, March 22.
Pelosi’s virtuoso performance tied up Congress from Monday through Friday, as senators and House members wrestled over her ransom demands, not least $35 million for the Kennedy Center. Pelosi insisted that the House would block relief for Americans enduring the COVID-19 national emergency unless it included cash for the Kennedy Center.
Despite public outrage over this irrelevant extravagance, Republicans broke the impasse and gave the Kennedy Center $25 million. After Pelosi’s other conditions were met, the Senate passed the legislation 96-0, the House assented by voice vote, and President Trump signed.
Now, with their coffers replenished, the Kennedy Center’s C-suite has waved something at their loyal, hardworking symphonic musicians, and it’s not a conductor’s baton. And they’re waving it at America’s taxpayers, too.
Just when the president and Congress are begging employers to pay their staffers and enacting laws to help them do so, lest mass unemployment drown the U.S. economy, the Kennedy Center cut off these unionized musicians’ paychecks, effective next Friday. It also will boot them off their health insurance in May, if concerts do not resume by then. For this act of cultural vandalism to be perpetrated not by some stereotypically avaricious corporation but by a reputedly caring, sensitive, enlightened nonprofit institution seems almost to have been scripted by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.
Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter’s cruelty would be easier to understand if her outfit survived on bake sales and an annual casino night. In fact, as veteran Washington Times columnist Ralph Hallow reports, the Kennedy Center’s recent $25 million taxpayer gift is just the coda accompanying its ample financial concerto. It sits on a $100 million endowment and total assets of $575 million.
The average NSO musician earns $1,007 per week. That totals $52,400 annually. NSO’s weekly payroll is $400,000. So, Rutter could spend $2.4 million to pay these players for six weeks and still have 90 percent of the taxpayer dollars that just landed on her desk.
Rutter also could have asked the musicians to take a pay cut, until things return to normal. This approach appealed to Ed Malaga, president of American Federation of Musicians Local 161-710. He stated, “The musicians had expressed their willingness to discuss ways to accommodate the Kennedy Center during this challenging time.”
By coincidence, President Trump last week named 10 members to the Kennedy Center’s board of trustees, including Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
He should instruct these appointees to resist this outrage from within. They should do so because paying these musicians is the law. According to page 722 of H.R. 748, $25 million was allocated to the Kennedy Center “provided” the funds were “made available to cover operating expenses including … employee compensation and benefits” and “fees for artists or performers.”
This outrage provides the president of the United States an excellent opportunity to use Nervous Nancy to hammer Rutter and the rest of the Kennedy Center’s leadership.
President Trump should step up to the White House podium with these sacked musicians behind him, remind Americans that Pelosi pushed for the money that Rutter and the other backstabbers pocketed before they issued these pink slips, and tell the Kennedy Center that they must rehire these musicians at once. If not, Trump will block the $25 million outlay — either immediately or as the first item in any future COVID-19 relief legislation.
For Trump, this is a PATCO moment in reverse.
One of President Reagan’s finest hours occurred in August 1981, when he gave illegally striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization 48 hours to return to their towers above America’s airports or face termination.
The 11,400 PATCO members who remained on the picket lines got canned. This dramatically underscored the principle that federal workers never should strike, especially when they endanger public safety. Veterans of the Cold War believe that Reagan’s resolve convinced the Kremlin that they faced a man of steel in the White House.
For his part, President Trump now can defend workers who unfairly were fired by pig-headed managers flush with $25 million barely unpacked taxpayer dollars. Trump should confront the Kennedy Center’s brass and fight for the symphony’s brass section, its timpanists, and the rest of those who bring appreciative audiences the sounds of Bach to Bernstein.
The Kennedy Center’s brazenness is as stunning as its ingratitude. It’s as if this establishment’s leaders dared the president to confront them in public. If this is what they want, President Trump should give it to them — good and hard.
This occasion is tailor-made for Trump to ally himself with workers (violinist, violists, and French horn players) at the expense of the well-heeled managers of one of America’s most upper-crust cultural institutions.
Even fair-minded, foie-gras nibbling classical music fans, who likely listen to Debussy and Dvorak on their local NPR stations (also replenished by the COVID-19 legislation), will be disgusted to see their taxpayer dollars abused like this, by the kind of liberal outfit that boasts about “caring for the little guy.”
President Trump should do the right thing. Invite these musicians to the White House, physically stand with them in front of the press corps, and rally for their immediate reinstatement. Trump’s showmanship could turn this into a magic moment.
The president’s bully pulpit should get these artists rehired. Then, he and the symphony’s workers can watch on stage as Nervous Nancy and the Kennedy Center’s supremely arrogant bosses stumble into the orchestra pit.