Eisenhower's farewell speech has wise words on split government and militarism

Dwight D. Eisenhower's grandson David Eisenhower recently released a book about the life of the 34th president after he left office.
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2010; 7:13 PM

New information about the drafting 50 years ago of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Jan. 17, 1961, farewell address shows that he would have had a second pertinent message for today beyond his famous warning about the "military-industrial complex."

Ike also was concerned about split government.

Released last week by the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, the newly discovered papers include a draft dated Dec. 21, 1960, that says though he as a Republican faced Democratic control of both the House and Senate for six of his eight years in the White House, "We did not fall out into bitter, unreconcilable factions which in other nations have paralyzed the democratic process."

Instead, he goes on, "Despite our differences, we worked together, and the business of the nation went forward, and the fact that it did so is in large measure a credit to the wisdom, forbearance, and sense of duty displayed by the Congress."

Given today's enormous governmental issues, President Obama, the Republicans and Democrats in Congress and particularly legislators coming to Washington next year should reflect on Eisenhower's concern about government paralysis.

The subject had been on Eisenhower's mind for a while.

Malcolm Moos, a special assistant and chief speech writer in whose cabin the draft was found, in a May 24, 1959, memo suggested it as a topic for the farewell address, saying it should stress "the need for common sense to accommodate the broad range of beliefs in the political spectrum of America, particularly in an era when the nation may have an Executive of one party and a Congress of another."

One day later, Eisenhower wrote to his brother, Milton, who served as an unofficial adviser, that "one reason I have been toying with this idea is because of my experience . . . a full six years in working with a Congress controlled by the opposite party." But, he added, he did not want to do "anything that was partisan in character."

By the time Milton Eisenhower did his rewrite Jan. 7, 10 days before delivery, the section about split government had been toned down and shortened. Milton's version spoke of the fervent hope "that the Executive and Legislative Branches of our government will find essential agreement on the great issues whose wise resolution will shape the future of our beloved country."

In the final speech, delivered from the Oval Office, that section became even blander. Eisenhower said that he and Congress became "mutually interdependent during these past eight years," and "in this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward."

While the lecture on split government faded, Eisenhower's concerns about militarism grew stronger in the speech. Those details are even more pertinent for today. In reviewing the several drafts, it appears that only one strong sentence was dropped. It was in an Oct. 31, 1960, memo by Ralph E. Williams, a White House speechwriter. He wrote it after receiving "guidelines" from Moos.

Williams wrote that not only had a "permanent war-based industry" developed, but "flag and general officers retiring at an early age take positions in [the] war-based industrial complex shaping its decisions and guiding the direction of its tremendous thrust. . . . We must be very careful to insure that the 'merchants of death' do not come to dictate national policy."

Though that section is gone, the final speech does contain more than the phrase "military-industrial complex."

Speaking of the threat from the Soviet Union and communism, Eisenhower used terms that still have resonance. "We face a hostile ideology - global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. . . . Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration."

Eisenhower pointed out the "conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry" creates an influence that is "economic, political, even spiritual." He said there would be continuing crises, foreign and domestic, but warned against "a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties."

Instead, he laid out the need to weigh proposals that are worth full consideration today - and to seek balance: "Balance in and among national programs - balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage - balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future."

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