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Jewish World Review
Nov. 6, 2012/ 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5773
Romney our best hope for Ike-like peace and prosperity
Though it's not fashionable to look favorably on the 1950s, voters today might want to consider the choices people faced 60 years ago, the leader they elected, and the stability and prosperity that resulted.
In 1952, Americans wanted change.
The previous 12 years had been exhausting, marked by wars and recessions and scandals. As the Democrats were in charge, and had been for two decades, it seemed likely that the GOP would benefit from the hopes for new leadership.
And with a nickname like "Mr. Republican," U.S. Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio had the edge. The son of the former president and chief justice was a conservative icon, having staunchly fought the New Deal, and an isolationist, opposing U.S. entry into the war in Europe right up until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Going into the convention that year, he was the favorite.
However, as it turned out, Republicans wanted change too. From Washington. From gridlock. From the same old fights between the same old politicians. They didn't want to go from one extreme to the other. Truth be told, they were sick of losing presidential races too. (They were 0-5 since Herbert Hoover won in 1928.) So, yes, they wanted someone who could win. But they also wanted a proven leader, someone who could bring factions together and get big things done, someone who wasn't afraid to buck his own party now and then.
In short, they liked Ike.
For too long, Dwight Eisenhower has been seen as the interim, not-so-great president, the golf-playing GOP breather between the New Deal-Fair Deal and the New Frontier-Great Society. A book published last year, Jim Newton's "Eisenhower: The White House Years, suggests otherwise. If Americans were able to experience an interlude of calm, it wasn't by chance. It was because they had elected a smart, effective manager - a true leader.
"President Eisenhower was determined that Americans should enjoy the fruits of their freedom, and he set out to wean the nation from its addiction to crisis," Newton writes. "Americans, he believed, would only fully secure the blessings of their liberty if allowed to pursue it with tranquility. More than any man of his era, Ike gave Americans that chance."
Mitt Romney's accomplishments in business, in the Olympics, or even as a Republican governor of a majority Democratic state don't compare with Ike's during World War II. They stand on their own. But today's voters would be wise to follow the example of their predecessors from '52, and select a non-ideological Republican from outside the Washington maelstrom to calm the political waters and get things done. And, if elected on Tuesday, Romney should look to Ike as an example of how to put the interests of Americans first, above advisers, allies overseas, and especially partisan politics.
For example, consider the constant pressure Ike faced from Republicans to cut taxes, right up until Vice President Richard Nixon prepared to run for the White House.
Newton writes: "Eisenhower declined to endorse a tax cut, despite the benefits it might have had for Nixon's political future. It was, Ike said, too likely to throw the federal budget out of balance. ... He had come to office determined to erase the $8.2 billion budget deficit he had inherited from Truman. Steady resistance to federal spending, along with the expansion of the economy through the mid-1950s, had allowed Eisenhower to deliver surpluses in 1956 and 1957 ... The 1960 budget offered Ike his final opportunity to deliver the economy into safe hands. He held fast on spending and taxes, and left office with a $500 million surplus. Not until 1999 would another American president produce a budget in the black."
A President Romney could only dream of having an $8.2 billion deficit to worry about. Still, if he was serious about reviving the economy and then delivering it into safe hands, and moving toward a balanced budget, and reforming taxes and entitlement programs, he would need the fortitude of an Eisenhower to overcome the political storm headed his way.
One thing that guided Ike was what he called the "middle way" - something a former Massachusetts governor could appreciate. Ike could support a health-care plan for seniors, but not a general mandatory one subsidized by the federal government. He could oppose a billion-dollar housing bill, but back federal funding for interstate highways or the St. Lawrence Seaway.
"Dwight Eisenhower was a profoundly conservative man, dedicated to the conviction that government served society best by safeguarding the individualism of the governed and allowing maximum liberty within those limits," Newton writes. "His 'middle way' ... explicitly rejected the notion that government should control the lives of citizens or eliminate all fear or want. But he also stood firmly apart from those who would, as a matter of principle, reject the useful services of a government that could advance the economy or protect its people."
On foreign policy, Eisenhower was equally independent. He rejected French pleas to intervene in Vietnam. He stood with Egypt against allies Britain, France, and Israel during the Suez crisis. He overruled advisers who advocated for tactically deployable nuclear weapons.
Clearly, it was not a crisis-free decade, and Eisenhower received his share of criticism, especially in his handling of civil rights and McCarthyism. The point, though, is that the relative peace and prosperity that prevailed was no accident. It took leadership.
Similarly, if Mitt Romney is elected president on Tuesday, he won't cure our addiction to crisis. But he's the best bet for putting us on the road to recovery.
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Kevin Ferris is commentary page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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© 2008, Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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