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Obama Picks NEH Nominee


by Jerome Weeks 3 Jun 2009

The National Endowment for the Humanities doesn’t get all the attention the National Endowment for Arts does, and Congressman Jim Leach may not be the kind of unorthodox choice to head the NEH that theater producer Rocco Landesman is for the NEA — except for this: Leach was a Republican representative from Iowa for 30 […]

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The National Endowment for the Humanities doesn’t get all the attention the National Endowment for Arts does, and Congressman Jim Leach may not be the kind of unorthodox choice to head the NEH that theater producer Rocco Landesman is for the NEA — except for this: Leach was a Republican representative from Iowa for 30 years before retiring in 2007 to teach at Princeton and become the interim director at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

True, Leach is not a Republican that Rush Limbaugh would probably accept: He broke ranks last year to endorse Obama. But he does make the third notable Republican Obama has picked — after Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) as secretary of the Army and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China.

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  • Rawlins Gilliland

    Leach will be an outstanding choice and so typical of the unbelievably unpredictable appointments President Obama’s administration has tended.

    Once upon a distant time, I was fortunate to win one of the earliest (1976) NEA-NEH fellowships, finding myself in the unlikely position of becoming a state’s poet. In this case Alabama, …..a state I had never even been in. It changed my life and according to (then) school aged kids I visited in schools for workshops I created, it changed a few of their lives as well. As exposure to the arts can many times do. I truly believe that my Father playing An American in Paris and other Gershwin music in my bedroom at night made me want to see the world and seek romantic adventure. It worked. Art is magic for the humanity in us all.

    A PS~~ little known, or shall I say seldom recognized, tidbit is that the NEA was created during the tenure of Richard M. Nixon. An admitted and known Republican.

  • Actually, both the NEA and the NEH were created back in 1965 during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. Both were, in his mind, elemental parts of his “Great Society” program.
    It is quite correct, however, that Nixon gave his blessing to a huge expansion of the NEA’s budget, a move that, among other things, helped do away with more congressional opposition to the program, which up until then had been mostly of a fiscal nature (with one or two exceptions). His support and his annually higher budgets for the Endowment helped put it on a much more secure footing.
    This support from Nixon was completely unexpected and still surprising to a lot of people. (He also appointed Nancy Hanks to be the head of the Arts Endowment, a very important figure in the NEA’s history and the person for whom the wonderful building in which the Endowment has its headquarters is named.)