Quotations from Chairman Jim, part 6

In August Leach’s 50-state tour also took him to Colorado, where he gave another speech and posted a column instructing the opponents of President Obama on their incivility. The peasants were revolting, and Leach was none too pleased about it.
Leach observed: “Citizens are increasingly losing confidence in the institutions of our nation, particularly government, and are becoming disrespectful of their leaders, other faith systems and each other.” What “faith system” might he be referring to, and why doesn’t he name it?
Leach was not just out peddling his usual pap. He was also regurgitating the big lie of 2010: “Public figures have been spat upon and subjected to racial and homophobic slurs.” It would be more accurate to say that the public has been subjected to a relentless barrage of false accusations of racism. Jim Leach is just another perp in what has now become a rather long line.
And here was another example, one more candidate for inclusion in Quotations From Chairman Jim: “[T]he case for bending over backwards to understand how others think and why they act as they do is a never-ending social imperative.” The case for clear writing also abides, and we know what it means. We’re less sure about the meaning of “bending over backwards” to understand how others think.
The “never-ending social imperative” displayed by Leach is the imperative of passing judgment on his benighted fellow citizens. “Citizenship is hard,” Leach advised. “It takes a commitment to listen, watch, read, and think in ways that allow the imagination to put one person in the shoes of another. Words matter. They reflect emotion as well as meaning. They clarify — or cloud — thought and energize action, sometimes bringing out the better angels of our nature, and sometimes, baser instincts.” Another quotation for the book!
Leach also asserted that “appeals to the irrational fears of citizens can inflame hate and sometimes impel violence.” True enough, but if his speeches have so far generated nothing more than a surefire cure for insomnia, we must be a highly resistant people.
In his Denver remarks Leach provided this formulation of the uncertainty principle he purports to apply to public affairs: “To be certain about something, a person generally knows a lot or very little. The first condition is preferable to the second, but imperfect judgment characterizes the human condition.” Yet again we are reminded that Leach is awfully sure of himself. One must wonder about Leach’s relativistic point of view. How can he be so sure that he is right, and his fellow Americans whom he finds wanting wrong?
Leach found new ground on which to condescend to his fellow citizens in the controversy over the Ground Zero Mosque. Leach’s remarks suggest that he is living in a parallel universe. In Jim Leach’s America, citizens are burning Korans and preventing Muslims from practicing their faith. Thus Leach advises us to “think through the implications for social cohesion at home and national security abroad when individuals object to fellow citizens practicing their chosen faith[.] Qur’an-burning and mosque-bashing are not the American way.” In Jim Leach’s land of imaginary Koran burnings and mosque-bashing, Americans must learn to respect the tenets of Islam.
But Americans have not gone on a binge of Koran burnings, and mosques have flourished in the United States. Taking a cue from his boss, Leach engaged in an argument with straw men of his own making. Leach also unleashed a series of rhetorical questions:

Wouldn’t it be wiser to make clear that Islam is not the enemy and that we are only concerned about those who hijack a faith system to establish a vocabulary and action plan of hate? And wouldn’t it be thoughtful to respect places of worship and make clear that we abhor book burning, especially of anyone’s religious texts? Wouldn’t this noticeably distinguish our actions from the Taliban’s desecration of Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan?

In the spirit of Jim Leach, I have a rhetorical question of my own, drawn from a memorable 1968 Bill Buckley column addressing Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaign. Wouldn’t it be better to cut the crap? Leach is not only ignorant, he is the cause of ignorance in others — if you take him seriously. Leach cites the case of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in the matter of the Barbary pirates, finding an inspirational story demonstrating “what mattered most was not where the major faith systems differed but where they conjoined.”
One senses that Jim Leach learned everything he “knows” about America’s struggle with the Barbary pirates from the boss. Americans actually interested in the long and involved story of America’s encounter with the Barbary pirates would do better to consult works such as Israel Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren’s outstanding history Power Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present. It is a story that goes back to the first days of the republic and that illuminates our current struggles, though not as Leach instructs.
America’s response to the Barbary pirates unfolded over several years and four administrations, ultimately leading to the termination of the practice of paying tribute. The response included the framing and adoption of the Constitution, the founding of the United States Navy, and a naval war on the pirates. It was not exactly a venture in multicultural understanding.
Oren writes that George Washington’s request for the funds necessary to build a navy prevailed over substantial opposition in Congress because Congress “could no longer bear the disgrace of kowtowing to Barbary.” In the administration of James Madison, Commodore Stephen Decatur conducted an extraordinary exercise in gunboat diplomacy that brought the Barbary Wars to a successful conclusion.
Jim Leach’s 50-state civility tour continues. It prompts one more rhetorical question. Wouldn’t it be best for all concerned if he stayed home and kept quiet?
Previously: An introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. With this installment the series concludes.

Responses