The new Eisenhower memorial is a reminder of the kind of person the American people value as a leader.
The dedication Thursday of the long-delayed Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., actually came at an opportune time.
The structure was authorized by Congress in 1999 and famed architect Frank Gehry’s design was selected by a commission in 2010. But disputes with the Eisenhower family about details of the design delayed the memorial’s dedication for more than 50 years after Eisenhower’s death and to just seven weeks before the nation chooses its next chief executive.
What makes the opening of the Eisenhower memorial opportune is that it throws a spotlight on the dissimilarity between the selfless man who had to be aggressively persuaded — by both political parties — to run for the presidency in 1952 and the flawed candidates this year.
Eisenhower surely had his faults, but historians rate him among our finest presidents. And a critical review of his presidency and his military career highlights just how exceptional he was as a leader and how much that leadership would be welcome today.
The 34th president was enormously popular with Americans after he led the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II and later served as the first commander of NATO. So when Eisenhower finally was persuaded to run for election, he won more than
55 percent of the vote and carried all but nine of the 48 states. Eisenhower took Illinois by a similar percentage even though he was running against Adlai Stevenson, a popular ex-governor of Illinois. In Champaign County, Ike got nearly 66 percent of the vote. Four years later, he attracted a record 67.1 percent in the county.
But it wasn’t Eisenhower’s political popularity that made him exceptional. He was an ordinary man from Kansas who had extraordinary principles and instincts. As his granddaughter Susan Eisenhower recounts in her new book, “How Ike Led,” Eisenhower worked to keep politics out of the appointment of Supreme Court justices and wanted to see a balance between Republicans and Democrats on the court.
“The President believed and acted upon the belief that the Supreme Court’s membership should represent diverse ideological points of view,” said Herbert Brownell, Ike’s first attorney general. In 1956, an election year, Eisenhower nominated Democrat William Brennan to the high court. Imagine that happening today when the president uses a list of conservative jurists as would-be judicial running mates.
The man who had led a great fighting force that freed Europe from
Nazi tyranny went on to become a president who embraced peace, restraint and diplomacy.
“Every gun that is made, every worship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” he said in 1953. “This world in arms is not spending money alone.”
During Eisenhower’s eight years in office, his granddaughter noted, he balanced the federal budget and helped produce a surplus in three of those years, all while keeping employment high and inflation low.
The Eisenhower memorial is a worthy monument to a great American and a reminder of what a president can and should be: honorable, humble, fair-minded, prudent, empathetic, patriotic and with a strong sense of the nation’s history and values.