Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Conscience Wins Out

I was not a fan of U.S. Representative Jim Leach (R-Iowa) during the 1990s. As chairman of the House Banking Committee he held hearings into the overblown Whitewater real-estate “scandal,” which his more fire-breathing Republican’t colleagues then employed to try to bring down President Bill Clinton. Leach didn’t seem to understand at the time that he was handing the increasingly dominant Newt Gingrich-Tom DeLay wing of his party ammunition to undermine the American political system and destroy a Democratic president simply for partisan gain.

But Leach paid for his errors and for trying to oppose the GOP’s extreme lurch to the right: In the 2006 midterm elections, he lost his seat to Democrat Dave Loebsack. Since then, he’s gone to teach at Princeton University. And Leach now seems willing to acknowledge that the Grand Old Party he once knew is no longer, and that its fielding of John “100 Years War” McCain to succeed the man McCain so admires--George W. Bush--shows just how out of touch it is with the needs of U.S. voters. Last night, Leach broke with the GOP to endorse Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention. He said, in part:
In troubled times, it was understood that country comes before party, that in perilous moments mutual concern for the national interest must be the only factor in political judgments. This does not mean that debate within and between the political parties should not be vibrant. Yet what frustrates so many citizens is the lack of bipartisanship in Washington and the way today’s Republican Party has broken with its conservative heritage.

The party that once emphasized individual rights has gravitated in recent years toward regulating values. The party of military responsibility has taken us to war with a country that did not attack us. The party that formerly led the world in arms control has moved to undercut treaties crucial to the defense of the earth. The party that prides itself on conservation has abdicated its responsibilities in the face of global warming. And the party historically anchored in fiscal restraint has nearly doubled the national debt, squandering our precious resources in an undisciplined and unprecedented effort to finance a war with tax cuts.

America has seldom faced more critical choices: whether we should maintain an occupational force for decades in a country and region that resents western intervention or elect a leader who, in a carefully structured way, will bring our troops home from Iraq as the heroes they are. Whether it is wise to continue to project power largely alone with flickering support around the world or elect a leader who will follow the model of General Eisenhower and this president’s father and lead in concert with allies.

Whether it is prudent to borrow from future generations to pay for today’s reckless fiscal policies or elect a leader who will shore up our budgets and return to a strong dollar. Whether it is preferable to continue the policies that have weakened our position in the world, deepened our debt and widened social divisions or elect a leader who will emulate John F. Kennedy and relight a lamp of fairness at home and reassert an energizing mix of realism and idealism abroad.

The portfolio of challenges passed on to the next president will be as daunting as any since the Great Depression and World War II. This is not a time for politics as usual or for run-of-the-mill politicians. Little is riskier to the national interest than more of the same. America needs new ideas, new energy and a new generation of leadership.

Hence, I stand before you proud of my party’s contributions to American history but, as a citizen, proud as well of the good judgment of good people in this good party, in nominating a transcending candidate, an individual whom I am convinced will recapture the American dream and be a truly great president: the senator from Abraham Lincoln’s state--Barack Obama.
Leach’s full address can be read here.

READ MORE:Jim Leach at the Democratic Convention,” by William McKenzie (The Dallas Morning News); “Leach Gets the Short Shrift,” by Steve Benen (The Washington Monthly).

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