A perceptive eyewitness writes to report on the appearance of National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach last week at Bowdoin College and to make a special contribution to this series. Our correspondent writes:
NEH Chairman Jim Leach visited Bowdoin College last week to meet with faculty who had received NEH grants and those who were applying for future grants to hear about their projects. Mr. Leach also spoke later in the day to a general audience.
What was surprising, especially for someone who has made “civility” a key theme of his addresses, is how partisan he was. Mr. Leach identified himself as a Republican who admired his party’s past, but wished to distance himself from its present and future. These sorts of comments have no place in an address by the Chairman of the NEH.
After hearing the description of one project that the NEH had funded on Theodore Roosevelt, he asked for an explanation of Roosevelt’s remark that to be a great president, you must have a great war. He asserted, in the most general way, that TR wanted a war with Germany. (Presumably, he had in mind Roosevelt’s showdown with the Kaiser over Venezuela during his first term as president, which was resolved by international arbitration.)
Mr. Leach seemed, shall we say, vague on the specifics. He then observed that Republicans love war, seemingly oblivious to the fact that World Wars I and II occurred on Democratic watches, as did Vietnam. Although his remarks in Florence that you posted earlier were banal, his comments on this college campus were unseemly both for their partisan character and for their ignorance of American history.