In May, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence, questioned the Smithsonian Institute about one of its exhibits on global warming in the arctic. (See news release.) Markey wrote a letter (text available here saying he was “deeply disturbed” that the Smithsonian may have bowed to pressure from the Administration to downplay humanity’s role in climate change.
Seems like a legitimate question, right? As this story on the controversy notes, the Smithsonian’s annual $1.1 billion budget comes mostly from the taxpayers.
Markey’s underlying argument: The Smithsonian was being improperly influenced by politics. Politics must be kept at a distance from this great American institution, lest its museums and programs be tarnished or brought into public disrepute.
Then surely the same accusation can be levied at the Smithsonian and the National Museum of the American Indian for sponsoring former Vice President Al Gore’s overtly political speech Saturday on global warming. He was calling for mass action to influence elected officials, urging the crowd to take a seven-point pledge demanding the passage of legislation and signing of international treaties. It would be wrong to have any taxpayers’ money spent on the event, obviously.
The American Indian museum explains its sponsorship as consistent with its mission: “Preserving the health of Mother Earth is the gravest responsibility of our generation. Taking up this challenge begins with a call to consciousness.” Does that call include offering the former vice president of the United States platform to exhort the public to pursue an explicit legislative agenda, one sharply critical of the energy industry?
Here is the law that creates the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian:
Section 80q-1. National Museum of the American Indian
There is established, within the Smithsonian Institution, a
living memorial to Native Americans and their traditions which
shall be known as the “National Museum of the American Indian”.
The purposes of the National Museum are to –
(1) advance the study of Native Americans, including the study
of language, literature, history, art, anthropology, and life;
(2) collect, preserve, and exhibit Native American objects of
artistic, historical, literary, anthropological, and scientific
(3) provide for Native American research and study programs;
(4) provide for the means of carrying out paragraphs (1), (2),
and (3) in the District of Columbia, the State of New York, and
other appropriate locations.
Well? How does sponsoring a political speech fit that mission?
We ask these questions because “Live Earth” is pursuing political goals, the achievement of which would be disastrous for the U.S. economy and employer, as well as the millions of Americans it would drive out of work. With its concerts and PR campaign, “Live Earth” is escaping the normal standards of accountability and behavior that apply to other political movements and figures.
We look forward to Representative Markey’s letter to the Smithsonian about “Live Earth” and any political pressure associated with the vice president’s speech at the museum.
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