Jim Leach offered unexpected praise of Barack Obama and several other Democratic presidential candidates in an interview with Iowa Independent this week.
The former Iowa congressman, who is now head of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, also offered unsolicited praise of Democrats Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson, and of Republican Ron Paul.
“I have a lot of respect for friends like Joe Biden and Chris Dodd,” said Leach, who served 30 years in the House of Representatives before his upset loss to Dave Loebsack last year. “I think the Democratic Party, based on where I feel the issues are, would be wiser to lean towards Barack Obama vis-à-vis Hillary (Clinton). I think Barack has a greater chance, and I think it was put very well by Ted Sorenson who is a great friend of mine, has a greater chance of kind of reflecting a new Camelot, a John F. Kennedy mode, than perhaps the other Democratic candidates.”
Leach explicitly declined to make a Republican endorsement, but had a great deal to say when told of Paul’s recent Iowa City visit:
Ron is a close friend and one who I have a lot of respect for. His libertarian views are not precisely mine. But one day he came up to me on the floor and he said, “Jim, I’m astonished. You took second.” And I said, “What do you mean, Ron?” And he said “We libertarians just issued our vote-grading record for the year and of course I was first, but you were second.” So that caught me more than a little off guard. That probably only happened one year in my time in Congress, but in general I probably would have had a higher libertarian rating than many of my constituents would have suspected.
Leach noted that Paul “is one of the few Republicans who, along with me, voted against the authorization to go to war with Iraq.” He assessed the war views of the other candidates:
To date in general the Republican candidates have more or less accepted the foreign policy of President Bush, with nuanced distinctions. The one showing any difference from the President is basically Ron Paul.
Barack and John Edwards as well as Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have been critical of Mrs. Clinton for her vote on a resolution relating to Iran that among other things implied giving the executive branch the authority to act not radically dissimilar from the resolution that authorized the use of force against Iraq. And that has become a minor cause celebre in the Democratic debates, with Sen. Clinton supporting the Bush-Cheney policy and the others having objections to it.
While Leach focused on the candidates now serving in Congress, he went out of his way to add, “By the way I also like a lot Bill Richardson. I think Bill is a real credit to the country and is a very fine candidate.”
“In a way it’s unfair that people like Joe Biden and Chris Dodd who are really distinguished Senators are not perceived as being as presidential as some others," Leach said. When told that Biden was very competitive with Clinton and Obama in endorsements from Iowa legislators, he said:
I think it’s a sign of respect from legislators that understand he’s a very professional and thoughtful legislator. Some of his recent comments on foreign policy have, in my view, been extremely thoughtful. And several of the comments I’ve heard recently of Chris Dodd relating to some financial issues such as the sub-prime lending dilemma have been very thoughtful. These are two estimable legislators who obviously would have a more liberal voting record than I would prefer but are, I think, fine Americans. I think people should be… they should be given a lot of respect.
Dodd chairs the Senate Banking committee, and Leach chaired the House Banking committee for several years.
Leach was far less outgoing about the Republican field other than Paul, but did note the personal appeal of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani:
Leach: “If you just look at (Romney) and watch the way he interrelates with people, he’s got a lot of charisma."
Deeth: “I saw the charisma effect going on when Mayor Giuliani was on campus as well."
Leach: “Oh, without a doubt. These are two kind of different personalities but each has some attractiveness."
Leach is working on campaign finance reform with a former Iowa congressional colleague, Democrat Berkley Bedell. On this issue, he again praised Obama:
Barack has the right approach, he’s not taking PAC money, I think that’s very respectable and I think it’s something people ought to look at very carefully when the make a decision between the candidates.
It’s in some ways the most important domestic issue because in some way it touches on all other domestic issues and it reflects on whether you can make decisions without conflicts of interest. We have greater weaknesses in American democracy than many people understand. I have reached the conclusion as Berkley has, that little is more important than to get big money out of the political system.
Leach took over as head of the Kennedy School in September when the previous head, former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, left to run for the U.S. Senate. He had preciously spent several months at the Woodrow Wilson School of Government at his alma mater, Princeton.