CEDAR RAPIDS — The tenor of public discourse, according to former Eastern Iowa U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, has devolved into a shouting match riddled with temerity and cynicism.
Oh wait, that’s what Leach told an Iowa City audience seven years ago.
Although public discourse has “hardened,” Leach offered some reason for optimism as he addressed “Civility in the Public Arena” at First Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids Friday.
Now a decade removed from a 30-year tenure in the U.S. House, Leach, 74, told members of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa that despite the shouting match growing louder and more raucous that they are “living in a world in which a lot of great things are happening.”
“We just need to bring some reason to the political process,” he said.
Leach, who was described as a moderate or liberal Republican, shared his concerns about the hyper-partisanship in politics, especially in Congress where rigid adherence to party positions has replaced the interparty dialogue and compromise that was more familiar during his time in the House.
Caucus politics demands unity, he explained. The result is that the “edges of the parties” have become the majorities in each party leaving the majority of the American public unrepresented in terms of political philosophy.
Since World War II, Leach said, the majority of the public has considered themselves center-right or center-left
“Yet there is virtually no center-right in the Republican Party today and hardly any center-left in the Democratic Party,” Leach said. “The biggest segment in American politics and public is not represented.”
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He traces the problems back to the influence of money in politics. Leach called the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision — allowing unions and corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to parties — its worst decision save it’s ruling in the Dred Scott case that the federal government had no standing to regulate slavery.
Getting “big money” out of politics “ought to be campaign issue No. 1,” said Leach, now interim director of the University of Iowa Art Museum.
Asked about President Donald Trump’s plan to “drain the swamp,” Leach rejected the premise that “everything has gone wrong.”
“Some things did go wrong, but America as a society is pretty good,” Leach said. “There is no, quote, “swamp” that’s awful in this country, that can’t be fixed a little.
“If you say, ‘Throw everything out,’ it’s the kind of rhetoric that I don’t find helpful,” he said.
In that vein, Leach suggested that as bad as things may look to people who oppose the president, the alternative might be worse.
“Which would you rather have,” he asked, “a country with a spectacularly wonderful president in which all of the infrastructure is a mess, in which businesses don’t work, universities don’t work, social policies don’t work, neighbors hate each other, or would you rather have a society in which actually things are going well but we have a lousy president?”
“Which is easier to change?” he said.
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