I’ve noted before my admiration for the late President Dwight Eisenhower and his moderate, fiscally attentive approach to government. And, as so many others have before me, I also appreciate Ike’s willingness to stand up to the military contractors who wanted nothing more than a steady, ample payday.
While much has been made of Ike’s “military-industrial influence” warning, few are aware that those comments came at the end of his presidency; in fact, during his denouement as president, just a few days before leaving office.
In fact, as is so well-documented in Evan Thomas’ book, Ike’s Bluff, Eisenhower spent most of his political career warding off defense contractors, military chiefs and even his own Cabinet members, all of whom were intent on inflating the budget with expensive war toys. Ever the military genius, Eisenhower realized that “small wars lead to big wars,” and that the federal budget could be busted by runaway defense spending.
As he said in his penultimate address, “We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. … Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
I am reminded of these wise words today, the morning after the re-election of a US president. For no matter who had won, the president must rein in spending, and that includes the staggering US defense budget, which for fiscal 2013 is more than $600 billion.
Yes, health care, Social Security and other programs need to be pared and reconsidered. And yes, defense is tremendous source of jobs — including the ever-important manufacturing ones — for US citizens. But the current budget is not sustainable, and given that we spend more than the next 14 countries combined, it’s impossible to argue that a reduction would somehow make us less safe and secure.
A moderate like Ike might not be electable in today’s political arena, but we should still heed his words. We need his wisdom now more than ever.