ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
“I like Ike.”
Our parents and grandparents wore buttons with this short presidential campaign slogan in 1952 and 1956. They were proud of the young man from Abilene, who became a five-star general in World War II.
Eisenhower was a late convert to the Republican Party-few even knew his party affiliation until a few years before he was first elected. But he was a good fit with the other bland, bald men with fur-coat wearing, bridge-playing wives who were the center of the Republican Party.
In those days, the Grand Old Party was proud that it was middle of the road and could force oncoming traffic to the right or left edge. Because until 1964, most Republicans believed moderation was a virtue and not a vice.
Eisenhower came into office with a hot war in Korea. He established a shaky truce. From then on there was a Cold War-expensive, scary but essentially bloodless.
He was often accused of being indecisive in world crises, but he was quick and firm in resisting America entering conflicts in both the Middle East and Asia.
Many other world crises were avoided because they died down before he made up his mind, his opponents said. Mostly he avoided war.
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity,” he said.
Eisenhower spent eight years building alliances with other countries. His was an era of regional meetings and summit conferences-the slow boring work of diplomacy. He knew that after World War II the age of the cowboy strutting the world stage was over.
The right wing of the Republican Party grew increasingly impatient with Eisenhower. He spent too much on foreign aid, he gave up American independence for foreign alliances, he appointed Earl Warren to the Supreme Court-the most progressive justice of the 20th century-and he wasn’t tough enough in fighting communist insurgencies.
A few in the most extreme fringe of America even accused him of being a “communist.”
If the present administration had consulted The Wisdom of Ike before starting the Iraq War, it would have heard him state in a 1954 press conference, “A preventative war, to my mind, is an impossibility. I don’t believe there is such a thing, and frankly, I wouldn’t listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”
For those Americans who now demand safety from terrorism and perfect security at home, his statement in 1949 would apply.
“If all that Americans want is perfect security, they can go to prison. They’ll have enough to eat, a bed and roof over their heads.”
Eisenhower said this as a Kansan. Anyone who has spent more than five years in Kansas knows there is no such thing as a safe and predictable world.
Eisenhower tried to find a balance between freedom at home and safety in the world. At the end of his presidency he worried about the “military-industrial complex”-that defense contractors had too much influence.
He said, “The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.”
The spirit of Eisenhower is no longer in the Grand Old Party. Eisenhower would not last a week as an adviser in the Bush White House.
In this 2006 election, if one seeks moderation and reasonableness one must look elsewhere. This is not our parents’ and grandparents’ Republican Party. It is certainly not the party of Eisenhower.
I miss Ike.