Lately, the big news from Washington D.C., and state houses across the country, is budget cuts. Under attack are programs such as food stamps, school nutrition and even veterans’ medical benefits. And yet, curiously, we always find money for war. Dwight Eisenhower had some thoughts on the subject and, as a former general, he would have known.
As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in WWII, Ike led the victory over Hitler. In 1952, he was elected the 34th President of the U.S. on the GOP ticket. At his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961 he issued a warning that went almost entirely overlooked. (Go to YouTube and type “Eisenhower Farewell Address.”)
Ike spoke of the imminent danger of the military industrial complex. Essentially, he foresaw that lobbyists for munitions and related industries could control Congress which would then be pre-disposed to lead us into unnecessary wars. (Why does that sound so familiar?)
So, you can see why I have to laugh (or cry) every time I hear right-wing politicians harangue about cutting budgets. The vast majority of them voted for the Iraq war, which made Ike’s warning downright prescient.
The eventual cost of the Iraq War is estimated by numerous economists as between $3 trillion and $5 trillion! (That’s trillion with a “t.”) But, on a daily basis, we’re told by House Speaker John Boehner or Sarah Palin, it’s monies spent on schools, Planned Parenthood and the environment that are ruining our economy. (Personally, Boehner can say anything he wants if he’d just not cry those crocodile tears.)
When Ike was president the Republican Party stood for fiscal responsibility. Those days are long gone. The last GOP president to balance a federal budget was Nixon in 1969! In foreign affairs many in the GOP advocated isolationism. This, as opposed to going thousands of miles to fight two wars, one possibly illegal, both clearly unwinable.
The GOP of the 50s didn’t have “birthers,” neo-cons or the Tea Party. They did have a powerful, alcoholic demagogue, Sen. Joe McCarthy, and his infamous Communist witch hunts. But eventually his own party helped censure McCarthy whose decline and disgrace was relatively swift. Oh, but how I wish the same for Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck, Hannity and Palin.
Actually, I take that back about Sarah. As you may recall, the former Governor of Alaska inexplicably quit in the middle of her term. She also suggested that she could practically see Russia from her front porch. (Assuming she could, how did that qualify her for anything?)
Frankly, I long to see Sarah win the GOP presidential nomination. Then again, I long to see the Dodgers win the World Series and neither seems likely in my lifetime.
When Ike made his startling farewell address, it was the end of what many considered America’s “golden age,” the 1950s. While it wasn’t terribly “golden” for minorities, or women’s rights or those of the disabled, the decade is remembered as being idyllic. The country had survived the Great Depression and WWII and now was about to experience an era of prosperity and bliss.
During the ‘50s families bought homes in record numbers. A father, especially if he had a union job, could afford to support his family on just his income. And his kids could go to public universities where tuitions were low. This will make me sound like I attended UCLA in a horse and buggy, but I remember paying $75 a semester. These days, just to park one’s car is triple that amount.
For most of America’s history a college education had been primarily for the elite and generally only males. But after WWII it was available to all who qualified. Recently, because of budget crises, tuitions have skyrocketed. These days, to get a college degree a student has to have rich parents, or a scholarship, or get student loans that will leave them saddled with debt for years. (But did I mention that we always seem to have money for war?)
In the ‘50s, the middle class was strong and the difference between rich and poor relatively narrow. The average CEO earned approximately 20 times the average worker. Today, the middle class is vanishing before our eyes while the average CEO’s salary is often 400 times or more than that of his workers. Meanwhile the gap between rich and poor is almost what it was during the Depression and is getting wider. (Well, at least the banks are prospering.)
Actually, my parents voted for Adlai Stevenson, not Ike. And, young as I was, I never cared for Eisenhower’s policies. (Nor his VP, Richard Nixon!) But on January day in 1961 Ike opened my eyes. I just watched his farewell address again on YouTube. Curiously, while Ike ominously warned us about the military industrial complex, he didn’t say a word about food stamps.
Jack can be reached at email@example.com