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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 03:48 am

Taking care of the Smithsonian

Maintain the nation’s attic or the roof will cave in

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Untitled Document Our national attic is caving in. “America’s attic” is the unofficial name of the venerable Smithsonian Institution. This is the 150-year-old complex of museums on the National Mall that houses an amazing array of artifacts and other irreplaceable treasures. It’s a priceless cultural jewel that is a favorite draw for families visiting the nation’s capital — 24 million people trekked through its public exhibits this year. You might assume that a place so important to our national identity and so popular with the people would be well taken care of. You’d be wrong. President George W. Bush and Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, have failed us as caretakers. They have squandered hundreds of billions of our tax dollars on wars, weaponry, corporate subsidies, and boondoggles — while turning a blind eye to the rising need of basic maintenance on America’s attic. As any homeowner knows, the failure to spend on repairs inevitably results in things like collapsing roofs, endangered collections, and closed buildings. The Smithsonian is now $2.5 billion dollars behind on necessary upkeep. Yet our so-called leaders are still turning their backs on this remarkable institution. Democrat Dianne Feinstein told Smithsonian officials at a recent Senate hearing that they’re on their own: “I see no way that that $2.5 billion shortfall is ever going to be picked up by the public sector,” she said. Excuse me? The Smithsonian is the public sector, it belongs to the people, and it’s a public responsibility. Instead of forcing it to charge entrance fees, hustle corporate sponsorships, or hold bake sales — cut a few corporate subsidies, Senator, then do your duty to care for America’s attic.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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