Former Iowa Congressman Leach an ambassador?

The Washington Post reports former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach (R-Davenport, Iowa City) is a top contender for a key diplomatic post: U.S. ambassador to China.  Leach, as you may recall, endorsed then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in August of 2008.

I recently read a speech Leach delivered at Princeton in December of 2007 — on the eve of the January 3, 2008 Iowa Caucuses.  Here are the pertinent parts:

"But for whatever reasons, it is the youngest and perhaps least seasoned candidate who provides the best chance on the Democratic side to change America’s image in the world.  Unlike the Democratic front runner and the majority of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, he opposed from the start the war in Iraq and he opposed two months ago the resolution to give the President authority to use force against Iran.  Uniquely, he isn’t afraid to negotiate with adversaries.  He recognizes the wisdom of Prime Minister Rabin who noted after he was criticized for speaking with Yasser Arafat:  “You don’t make peace with friends.”

Other Democratic candidates such as Joe Biden and Chris Dodd also wisely did not bite on the resolution authorizing force against Iran, but for reasons (some perhaps unfair), the leading Democratic candidates other than Barack Obama represent continuity with today’s politics while he represents new ideas, new energy, a new generation of leadership.

One of the reasons Obama makes his case for change so compelling is that he recognizes that if a legislator votes for conjectural wars of choice, his or her case as a social reformer is compromised.  Where is the money?  And if a candidate takes special interest money to advance personal ambition, how is independence of judgment not compromised? How can the public have confidence that governmental decisions will be fair to all? 

The question of following the money, of candidate indebtednesses, cannot be ducked, whether the issue is foreign policy or health care. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich should be recognized for holding some of the same campaign values as Obama, but as one of the leading candidates Obama is risking the most with his refusal to take money from the myriad of special interest groups.  For him it means loss of ability to project, something far more consequential to a lesser known candidate attempting to make a mark than an established figure.

As far as I am concerned, campaign reform should be considered one of the great civil rights issues of our time, one of class rather than race.  The issue is opportunity. Can a citizen have a fair crack at the American dream if he or she is neither wealthy nor inclined to become indebted to those who control campaign resources?   We have a quality dilemma in American politics in no small measure because many of the best and brightest are foreclosed from the process.  Given a political system divorced from the public in many ways, symbolized less by party division than by moneyed influence, the case for giving the benefit of doubt to a candidate who not only supports campaign reform but runs his own campaign in a conflict-free way would appear compelling.

As director of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government, I am disinclined to endorse any candidates.  While I have favorites in my party, it is interesting to note that JFK’s most trusted confidante, Ted Sorensen, has suggested that Barack Obama is more poised to re-create an American Camelot than anyone he has seen in his lifetime."

But eight months later, Leach changed his mind to "inclined" and endorsed Obama. Leach won 15 terms in the U.S. House representing parts of eastern and southeastern Iowa.  He lost his bid for re-election in 2006 and soon joined the faculty of Princeton, his alma mater.  When former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen decided to run for the U.S. Senate, she gave up her post as head of Harvard University's Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School, Leach stepped in as interim director to fill out her term.  Leach is now back at Princeton, perhaps enroute to Beijing.

Here is a detailed biography of Leach. You will see that he has an advanced degree from the London School of Economics and was a foreign service officer in the U.S. State Department from 1968-1969. As a high school athlete, Leach was a state wrestling champion in 1960.

Leach would be the second Iowan to serve as the chief U.S. envoy to China.  Edwin H. Conger — a decorated Civil War veteran, politician, banker, and lawyer from Dexter, Iowa — served as U.S. Ambassador to China from 1898-1905.  Conger, by the way, earned his law degree from Albany Law School in 1866. That's the same law school which granted former Iowa Governor/US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack his degree in 1975.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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