William Galston: Why I Miss President Eisenhower

Roundup: Talking About History

[William Galston is a former policy advisor to Bill Clinton and current senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.]

As preparation for President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, I’ve reread two noted presidential speeches delivered days apart, half a century ago. I need not dwell on JFK’s inaugural; many of us know its stirring cadences by heart. Its cardinal virtue is courage; its mood, audacity; its ambition, not just global but galactic. It is a young man’s speech, self-consciously so.

Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address is the surprise. It is remembered, of course, for its warning against the “acquisition of unwarranted influence ... by the military-industrial complex.” But the real point of the speech is moral. Eisenhower cautions against “any failure traceable to arrogance.” He highlights the perennial temptation to believe that “some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.” Meeting the challenge of a hostile ideology calls for, “not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle.”...

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