What does Leach have to say in his speeches? In his September 2009 speech “Bridging cultures: NEH and the Muslim world,” Leach explained his support for Obama during the campaign: “[O]n a personal note, I chose as a Republican to endorse Barack Obama for President because I was convinced that never in American history was the case for a course change more compelling in international relations and because I had become convinced that seldom had a more natural humanist been chosen to represent his party for national office.”
And that wasn’t all! Elsewhere in the speech he returned to the subject of Obama: “The good news is that the President has a mandate to rethink policies in place and appears to have chosen first class professionals with open minds to advise him,” Leach pronounced. He touted Obama’s Cairo speech as “one of the great humanist speeches of our time” (not the greatest since the Sermon on the Mount?) and took a harsh look at the political scene:
We have all followed the outburst of a congressman from South Carolina [Rep. Joe Wilson] during the President’s recent [health care address] to Congress. Less noted, and vastly more significant, than the much publicized congressional utterance is the fact that significant political figures and many citizens have over the course of the last year charged our current President with advancing policies that were either “communist,” or “fascist” or both, and suggested that members of his party in Congress should be investigated for “un-American” activities. Several in public life have even toyed with history-blind radicalism–the notion of “secession.”
Words matter, for they reflect emotion as well as thought. The ones cited above are politically and personally charged. In a legal sense they are, of course, protected by free speech, but the question is whether they nonetheless are part of a vocabulary of hate, jeopardizing social cohesion and even public safety.
The theme of the speech was the NEH’s “Bridging Cultures” initiative. According to Leach, the initiative is aimed at changing the allegedly “disrespectful” attitudes of many Americans toward Muslim contributions to culture. I’d settle for Leach building a bridge of respect to Americans such as Rep. Wilson, but he clearly has bigger fish to fry.
Previously: An Introduction, Part 1. Tomorrow: Part 3.