President Dwight Eisenhower, it seems, always smiled. Type his name into a Google image search, and in nearly every photo his visage ranges from tight-lipped but friendly grinning to full and toothy beaming.
Were he alive today, the presidential race would have him frowning, for neither side fully regards his 1961 farewell speech.
Most remember that speech for its cautioning against captivity to what Eisenhower famously called the "military-industrial complex." Both Eisenhower's policies and parting words demonstrated the need for a robust defense industry. He initiated large investments toward winning the Cold War, and his farewell speech called the military establishment "a vital element in keeping the peace."
And yet he recognized the war machine's inherent dangers both to America's character and its worldwide influence. Therefore, he called for mutual disarmament when possible and an alert and knowledgeable public to prevent the push for security from unduly marginalizing peace and liberty.
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I therefore doubt that Eisenhower would support Mitt Romney's plan for increased defense spending. While defense spending is low compared to GDP historically, lower even than in Eisenhower's time, spending in inflation-adjusted dollars is comparatively high as is spending per capita. Additionally, our military might meets the standard set out by Eisenhower in his farewell speech. We have the power, as he said, to threaten any aggressor with "his own destruction."
Eisenhower had other concerns, though. Not only did he warn against the undue influence of the military-industrial complex, but he also spoke out against deficit spending. Though he only dedicated one paragraph to this issue, his words against deficits are among the speech's most poetic, stating for example, "We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
President Barack Obama has his record of imbalanced budgets, and Romney's budgetary plan is sketchy and vague. Both give lip-service to balancing the budget, but neither seems ready to promote the public and private sacrifice needed to do so. Eisenhower expressed a third concern as well, one rarely discussed: the dangers against dominance of society by a "scientific-technological elite."
As with his warnings about the military-industrial complex, Eisenhower's position on the scientific-technological elite is complex and nuanced. He himself initiated huge expenditures on research, and his speech indicates that Americans should hold scientific research and discovery in respect.
And yet he indicated that commitment to science and technology should not come at the expense of America's religious and moral character. One of the qualities he derides in America's Cold War enemy is its atheism. He is concerned about the spiritual impact of public policy. He upholds moral integrity, along with wealth and military might, as a source of America's protection.
On this concern I believe Eisenhower would oppose positions of Obama, who has consistently marginalized voices of those concerned with religion and traditional morality. The president has displayed callousness toward innocent life in his policies regarding embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. In his advocacy against traditional understandings of marriage, he seeks to undermine one of the foundation blocks of Western civilization, which as Eisenhower states "has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years."
Eisenhower's farewell speech warns the United States against becoming like its Cold War enemy — a soulless, conscienceless, insolvent war machine. I fear both candidates will lead us down that path in one way or another. Ike is frowning.