David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, in his new book 'The Road to Character' dedicates a chapter to Dwight Eisenhower as one of the personifications of a life dedicated to something other than self interest with restraint, discipline and humility.
Aware of his weaknesses, which included a fierce temper, Ike put up a lifelong struggle against self centered ambition and vanity (which is why he despised General Douglas MacArthur, whom he served for 8 years as personal adjutant).
Not known as a visionary or a strategist, Dwight Eisenhower, left office with a farewell address to the nation that now, 54 years later, rings prophetic in its admonishments. In it he advocates the conference table over "the certain agony of the battlefield". And he warns of the undue influence of the military-industrial complex over the democratic process (which we can now see as a metaphor of any special interest interfering with public governance).
Equally relevant to our current predicaments is Ike's admonishment to his constituents to resist the temptation to mortgage the future of our children in order to satisfy perceived immediate needs or politically expedient programs. He says in his farewell address:
"As we peer into society's future, we - you and I, and our government - must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
Two generations of politicians have since chosen to ignore Eisenhower's message. When will the political leader stand up to tell us that it is time to heed Ike's warning and begin to reverse the mortgaging of our future? And if someone stands up, will we hand that person the reins to lead us into a future that better balances the interests of the current and future generations?
We can't possibly say that we were not forewarned.