Civility tour: it’s got my vote…

 

About a year ago, Jim Leach, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, embarked upon a 50-state “American Civility Tour.”  Last weekend, he was in Wausau for the opening of the new UW Center for Civic Engagement.  It could hardly have been a more appropriate setting for the man and his message.  It was a pleasure to meet and hear this interesting fellow.  (I couldn’t help but think of the famous theme song from The Man of La Mancha, a musical based on Don Quixote, which is appropriately titled “The Impossible Dream.”)

A former Republican Congressman from southeastern Iowa, Leach became Chairman of NEH in August, 2009 — a nominee of Democratic President Obama.  In a country filled with the vitriol of talk radio, Internet flaming from anonymous hacks, TEA party rhetoric and third party negative campaigns that practically drown out the voices of the candidates themselves, Leach has made civility and cross-cultural understanding the centerpieces of his chairmanship. 

“Little is more important for the world’s leading democracy in this change-intensive century than establishing an ethos of thoughtfulness and decency of expression in the public square,” said Leach in a Washington Post article on his effort. “If we don’t try to understand and respect others, how can we expect them to respect us, our values and our way of life?”

Bravo, Mr. Chairman.  If you can endow even a modicum of improvement to our humanity during your tenure, you will have accomplished something that seems to have become more elusive with each new term of our state and federal legislatures.  You’ve got my vote.

JR

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