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Leach pushes for civility

BY KRISTIN LUTZ | FEBRUARY 17, 2010 7:30 AM

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Universities have a vital role in encouraging an active debate of how political issues affect society, former Iowa Congressman James Leach told a crowd on the UI campus Tuesday night.

“The UI has a responsibility,” he said, “because a university is where you study issues, have debates among faculty, staff, roommates, students … and one gets confronted with new ideas and then is tested and challenged within their individual views.”

Tuesday evening’s speech in the Old Capitol marked Leach’s Iowa segment of a 50-state tour to address “a tone of American political discourse that continues to degrade from informative argument to personal attacks and innuendo,” according to a UI release. Now serving as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Leach emphasized the university culture also creates more knowledgeable people, who in turn influence society and the government.

His organization offers grants to institutions — which can be used for research or other study that will help educate students and the public.

In line with that philosophy, the UI could offer undergraduate and graduate courses, along with research, that would spread knowledge about humanities and create a better understanding of topics such as health care and environmental issues, said Jay Semel, a UI associate vice president for Research.

“The general public gets very excited about new sciences when regarding health and other topics,” he said. “However, when it comes to new discoveries in humanities, it becomes unsettling to people because it becomes a matter of faith. It isn’t welcomed as ‘Wow’ but more so a violation of their American faith and belief in which most people don’t want to change their mind.”

In his speech, Leach also discussed the role politicians play in society.

On a lot of issues, the idea that Republicans cannot support a Democratic viewpoint and vice versa can influence voting, he said, and that “leads to people not being able to think of the common good for the people.”

He also discussed the negative atmosphere often created during elections.

“Just as athletes compete to win, they learn to respect their opponents,” he said. “Is it too much to ask the same for candidates?”

Leach, who served as a Republican congressman for three decades, made headlines when he crossed party lines to support Barack Obama on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

Before then, Leach was known to go against his party on one key issue: authorization of military force in Iraq.

Iowa City resident Jeff McDowell said after Tuesday’s speech that Leach is “the most honest and most fair man” and compared him with Abraham Lincoln.

“What you get with Leach is an honest politician,” he said.

Today, Leach will join the UI Symphony Orchestra to narrate a performance of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. The piece combines classical orchestral music with the narration of segments from President Abraham Lincoln’s documents and speeches, like the Gettysburg Address.


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