Leach speaks on first night of DNC in Denver

Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach spoke this evening at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.  Leach, a Republican who endorsed Obama in mid-August, is no Zell Miller, so I doubt he is — as I type — challenging Chris Matthews to a duel like Miller, the Democratic senator from Georgia who spoke at the GOP National Convention in 2004.  Leach is a Princeton professor, however, and part of his remarks was a sort of history lesson, from the Leach perspective.  The Harkin campaign helpfully provided the text of his remarks to reporters.  The Obama campaign did not provide Leach’s remarks, but I transcribed them.  They’re posted below, aa are the remarks of Candy Schmieder — the Marengo, Iowa woman who spoke for three minutes just before Leach.

Here is the text of Senator Harkin’s introduction: (In American sign language) "I’m happy to see so many people with disabilities here. I am proud to have your support for the Democratic Party," Harkin began, as an interpreter stood by his side speaking while Harkin addressed the crowd in American sign language.

"We Iowans have a strong, vibrant, two-party political system," Harkin continued, speaking into the microphone himself. "However, we do not genuflect to blind ideology. We value thoughtful discourse rather than slogans and posturing we hold dear our freedom.

"As our state motto declares: "our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain." We are willing to do what’s right, not what is easy. And nobody exemplifies the Iowan spirit more than Jim Leach-our thoughtful, respected, long-time former Republican congressman from Iowa City.

"Back in the early 1970s, Jim was a Foreign Service officer in the Nixon Administration who served as a delegate to the Geneva disarmament conference and the United Nations General Assembly. But when Richard Nixon fired his attorney general and the independent counsel investigating Watergate in 1973, Jim resigned in protest. Two years later, he ran for Congress and won.

"Over the next 30 years, Jim stood for election 14 more times. He served three decades in the House. He chaired two committees. He ran two national organizations dedicated to Republican causes. He did all of these things as a strong, proud, influential Republican.

"At a time when some would have us believe that America is a nation divided by red state and blue state, Jim is here today because he knows that red and blue are not nearly as important as red, white, and blue.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce a fellow Iowan, a thoughtful lifelong Republican, and a proud supporter of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States-Jim Leach."

Leach walked onto the stage, wearing a somber suit and his glasses.  The band played "Stand By Me."

"Thank you, Tom Harkin.  As a Republican I stand before you with deep respect for the history and the traditions of my political party, but it is clear to all Americans that something is akilter in our great republic.  In less than a decade, America’s political and economic standings in the world have been diminshed.  Our nation’s extraordinary leadership in so many areas is simply not reflected in the partisan bickering and ideological politics of Washington.

"Seldom has the case for an inspiring new political ethic been more compelling and seldom has an emerging leader so matched the needs of the moment.  The platform of this transformative figure is a call for change.  The change Barack Obama is advocating is far more than a break with today’s politics.  It’s a clarion call for renewal, rooted in time-tested American values that tap Republican as wel as Democratic traditions.

"Perspective is difficult to bring to events of the day, but in sweeping terms there have been four great debates in our history to which both parties have contributed.  The first debate, led by Thomas Jefferson – the first Democrat to be elected president, centered on the question of whether a country could be established based on the rights of man.  The second debate, led by Abraham Lincoln — the first Republican elected president, was about definitions: whether the rights of man applied to individuals who were neither pale nor male.  It took almost two centuries of struggle, hallmarked by a civil war, the suffrage and abolitionist movements, the Harlem Renaissance and courageous civil rights leadership to bring meanings to the values embedded in the Declaration of Independence.

"The third debate, symbolized by the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and the emphasis on individual intiative of Ronald Reagan, involves the question of opportunity:  whether the rights are meaningful if all citizens are not given a chance to succeed and provide for their families.  The fourth debate, which acquired grim resonance with the dawn of the nuclear age, is the question of whether any rights are possible without peace and environmental security.

"The American progressive tradition reflected in these debates spans Democratic standard-bearers — from the prairie populist William Jennings Bryant to the ‘Camelot’ statesman John F. Kennedy.  It includes Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt who built the national park system and broke down corporate monopolies and Dwight David Eisenhower who ran on a pledge to end the war in Korea, put a stop to European Colonial intervention in the Middle East, quietly integrated the Washington, D.C. public school system and not-so-quietly sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to squelch segregation in public schools forever in the United States of America.

"And in models of international statecraft, progressive leadership includes Al Gore who helped galvanize worldwide understanding of the most challenging environmental threat facing the planet.  It also includes our current president’s father who led an internationally-sanctioned coalition to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.  In the congress, Democratic senators like Pat Moynahan and Mike Mansfield served in Republican adminsitrations and on the Republican side Arthur Vandenberg helped President Truman launch the Marshall Plan and Everett Dirksen backed Lyndon Johnson’s landmark civil rights legislation.

"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 the political debate between the 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 responsbilities 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.

"Amerca has seldom faced more crticial choices: whether we should maintain an occupational force for decades in a country and region that resent 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 policy or elect a leader who will shore up our budgets and return to a strong dollar; whether it’s preferable to continue the policies which have weakened our position in the world, deepened our debt and widened social divisions or elect a leader who will emulate John F. Kenney and relight a lamp of fairness at home and reassert an energizing mix of idealism abroad.

"The portfolios 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, a new generation of leadership and 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 the good people in this good party in nominating a transcending candidate who I am convinced will recapture the American dream and be a truly great president — the senator from Abraham Lincoln’s state, Barack Obama. 

"Thank you."

Candy Schmieder of Marengo, Iowa, was given a three-minute speaking slot from the dias shortly before Leach as part of what the Obama campaign described as having "everyday Americans" speak at the DNC.  The public address announcer for the convention asked the crowd to "Please welcome Candy SCHMY-der."  The song, "I’m gonna make you love me," was played as she made her way on stage.  Schmieder began by introducing herself to the crowd and properly pronouncing her last name — SCHMEE-der.

"I cannot express to you how unlikely it is that I would be here today.  Like Senator Obama, I lost my mother to cancer when she was too young.  I was junior in high school and made some poor life choices.  I started but never finished college.  Today I am a 39-year-old wife and mother of three.  I work part-time from home.  I can’t even say this experience is like a dream coming true because I never allowed myself to dream so big.

"I am here today because of Senator Obama.  I first heard of him when my pastor gave me his ‘Call to Renewal’ speech to read.  I saw common beliefs and I wanted to learn more.  I read The Audacity of Hope.  It was simple and straight-forward with no political game playing, just bringing people together so that real changes can be made that affect the everyday lives of people like me.

"When Senator Obama announced he would run for president I was thrilled and for the first time in my life decided to get involved.  Living in Iowa, we had the opportunity to attend many events and to meet Senator Obama, Michelle and their family.  We learned they are very down-to-earth, genuine people who truly understand our point of view.

"When I listen to Senator Obama speak, my children stood next to me and I understood what he means when he talks about the fierce urgency of now.  If not now, what will our country look like in four or eight years?  What will our childrens’ future hold?

"During the course of this campaign I have been involved like never before.  I am a precinct captain. I go door-to-door talking to my neighbors about Senator Obama.  I donate money. I had the experience to introduce Senator Obama in front of a great Des Moines crowd in May.  Yes, Senator Obama inspired me with his words, but then he motivated me with his good, solid plans for action.  He convinced me that I was an important part of making these things happen.  He convinced me that my voice does matter.  In fact, he was so convincing that I’ve decided to go back to college, finish my bachelor’s degree and pursue something that I am now very passionate about:  public service.

‘I am convinced that Barack Obama is the best choice for the president of the United States.  He has the judgment, compassion, intelligence, perserverance and experience needed to become the next leader of our country.

"Thank you." 

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Jim Crawford says

    Not having the text of Jim Leach’s remarks is a disappointment, as his speech was truly statesmanlike. Here’s hoping the DNC releases it.
    Other high points of the day to me: the remarks of Caroline Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and Michelle Obama.
    Low point: I was surprised that Nancy Pelosi has such a high talk-say ratio. The world will little note nor long remember what she said there.