We’ve followed the speeches given by Obama administration NEH chairman Jim Leach here (commenting on Leach’s “The tension between speaking and listening”) and here (commenting on Leach’s “Bridging cultures: NEH and the Muslim world”).
Leach has now undertaken what he calls “a 50 state civility tour.” We observed the kickoff of his tour with stops in New York and Philadelphia in “Civility for thee…” Last week his tour took him to Colorado, where he spoke on Thursday and posted a column instructing the opponents of President Obama on their incivility.
The peasants are revolting, and Leach is none too pleased about it. Leach observes: “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 is not just out peddling his usual pap. He is 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.
No Leach column or speech would be complete without his descent into the kind of sophisticated illiteracy that gives rise to sayings such as this Leach chestnut: “Certain frameworks of thought define rival ideas. Others describe enemies.” And there it is,
And here is another example, one more candidate for inclusion in the Sayings of 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 social imperative displayed by Leach is the imperative of passing judgment on his benighted fellow citizens.
“Citizenship is hard,” Leach advises. “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 saying for the book!
It would be a lot easier to listen to Leach if he took the trouble to learn how to write a clear English sentence. One would think that the ability to write clearly would be a qualification for the office he holds. He has, however, moved on to a higher calling without mastering the craft.
Leach asserts 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 provides 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.”
For an uncertain and relativistic kind of guy, however, Leach is awfully sure of himself. One must wonder about Leach’s relativistic point of view. Is it exempt from the Leach uncertainty principle? How can he be so sure that he is right, and those of his fellow Americans whom he finds wanting wrong?
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