Sunday, February 14, 2010

Not Like Ike

Dwight David Eisenhower, the best Republican President since Teddy Roosevelt, would not be welcome in today's Republican party. Not only was he far too liberal (in the true sense of the word), but he also had too much personal integrity.

When he pledged during the campaign, "I shall go to Korea," he went there, and he ended the war there, early in his first term in office.  Contrast this alone with the endless war policies of subsequent Republican Presidents and the present occupant of the oval office, who has just accelerated once again the Afghanistan war he pledged to end.

Ike's progressive legacy towers over the agendas of his Republican successors.  The Atoms for Peace program that led to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The St. Lawrence Seaway.  The Interstate Highway System.  A balanced Federal budget. Enlarged Social Security coverage and benefits. Sharp reductions in military spending.  The country's first meaningful civil rights legislation.  NASA. A new cabinet department, dedicated to the Health, Education and Welfare of the American people.

If any of these alone would not have earned him the libel of "socialist" from today's Tea Party GOP, then surely his federal intervention to force the integration of the public  schools of Little Rock would have gained him that honor.

A military hero who led the United States to Victory in Europe in World War II, Eisenhower reminded us that "humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends" -- words that would turn to bile if they came from the lips of Bush II, for example.

But perhaps the greatest legacy of Eisenhower's presidency lay in his choice of federal judges, especially four of his Supreme Court appointees: Earl Warren, John Marshall Harlan II, William J. Brennan and Potter Stewart.

The Warren Court  gave us integrated public schools, established the principle of "one man, one vote," protected the rights of the accused (Miranda v. Arizona), strengthened the Constitutional wall of separation between church and state, and powerfully reinforced the right of free speech.  Subsequent Republican Presidents have appointed ideologues to replace these judicial giants in a determined philosophic war against progressive principles.  And so today the highest court in the land has decreed that corporations are endowed by the Constitution with the same rights as people.

Eisenhower's appointees concerned themselves with the concerns of the people.  "Legislators represent people, not cows and trees," the Chief Justice wrote.  "Property doesn't have rights; people have rights," Potter Stewart wrote. Its decisions resonated of compassion for the underprivileged, protection of the weak and the equality of man.

Subsequent courts have given us Antonin Scalia: “Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached." And Samuel Alito: "I believe very strongly in limited government . . .and the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values."

Many Americans disagreed with Eisenhower on policy, but none ever questioned his personal integrity.  His altruism and dedication to peace were genuine. He was, like George Orwell, a "lover of liberty and intellectual honesty."

American politics today is awash in professions of love of liberty, some of which may even be sincere.  What's lacking is intellectual honesty.  There's no room for a Dwight Eisenhower in the party of Sarah Palin.

1 comment: