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Art that calls the fiscal cliff's bluff

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
 A partial view of "Don't Punish Our Future. Make the Rich Pay" by Ernesto Yerena A partial view of "Don't Punish Our Future. Make the Rich Pay" by Ernesto Yerena
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: After Newtown, it is hard to stomach an artificial crisis like the fiscal cliff
  • Jones: Artists' works expose fiscal cliff as a bluff to cut essential programs
  • Jones: We need a return to higher taxes, lower defense spending of Clinton years
  • Listen to artists, he says. They are in the forefront of many social movements

Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform for political innovation focused on policy, economics and media. He was President Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

(CNN) -- Even as America reels from the horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the clock continues to count down toward the so-called "fiscal cliff."

In the face of a legitimate crisis, it is harder to stomach manufactured ones. And that's exactly what the so-called fiscal cliff is.

In fact, every time I hear the term, I want to slam my head on the table. Luckily, I'm not alone. Today, December 19, a collection of artists are coming together to expose the "fiscal cliff" as a "fiscal bluff," and remind progressives of the power of culture in helping to win the long-term war of ideas.

Van Jones
Van Jones

My organization, Rebuild the Dream, is joining artist groups CultureStrike and 5D Stories on a special project: "ARTSTRIKE: America's Not Broke, America is Being Robbed." On Wednesday, with the help of Rebuild the Dream's members and partners, millions of people will see works of art that convey what is at stake in the big budget fight.

Some of the artwork takes the form of arresting and powerful visuals with a fierce message. Other works explain what is happening in Washington, or graphically depict the choice our nation faces. There are songs and videos touching on issues from student debt to long-ignored poverty.

Not every piece frames the debate exactly as I would, and I may not share every artist's exact view. But that's not the point of a project like this. I believe this project conveys a message that policymakers need to hear. And it couldn't come at a more urgent moment than now, as reports indicate President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner could be nearing a deal that slashes Social Security, cuts benefits for veterans and raises taxes on the poor and middle class to pay for the Bush wars, tax cuts and bailouts.

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Our country is in the midst of a massive jobs crisis, the next generation is saddled in debt, the climate crisis is rapidly approaching a point of no return and now unspeakable gun violence shatters the heart of our nation. Instead of tackling these problems, some of our nation's leaders are apparently contemplating putting Social Security, and maybe Medicare, on the chopping block in a panic move -- all to avoid an artificially contrived deadline.

We can make a huge dent in the rest of the deficit just by returning to the higher taxes and lower defense spending of the Clinton boom years, asking those who do well in America to do well by America. Washington should also deal with spending by cutting wasteful subsidies to oil companies, defense contractors and agribusinesses that do little but line CEOs' pockets with our tax dollars.

The main part of the cliff that worries me is taxes going up on poor and middle-class Americans. The House of Representatives could fix that with one vote to extend the current low rates.

We need to spread the word, and I am glad that artists are leading the way. Artists have been at the forefront of all great modern social movements. They inspire people to dream bigger, force us to imagine a different world and confront people with new ideas. We must embrace the power of art to better protect the American Dream for generations to come.

We should never allow Washington politicians to stampede the American people into supporting cuts they otherwise would never accept.

They're bluffing -- and hoping we fold. It's not a fiscal cliff, it's a fiscal bluff. And as our nation struggles to deal with real emergencies, I am glad that America's artists are calling them on it.

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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

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