My grandfather sometimes worried about how he would be remembered. "Don't let them put me on a horse," he would tell us -- a fate he rejected no doubt with images of rigid bronze generals astride their steeds.
An avid reader of history and an advocate of the value of historical knowledge, on this centennial of his birth, he would want his period and his approach to problems to be studied and debated -- for what it would tell us about ourselves and our future.
Dwight Eisenhower is now part of history, and people more qualified than I will have to be relied on to evaluate his record. But from as objective a stance as I can take -- given my obvious bias -- I think that how he led this country is desperately missed on the political scene today.
With fundamental decency and a strong sense of fairness, he had a nearly unique combination of courage, long-range vision and what I would call a personal philosophy: what other people would call values.
With the current budget crisis, it is sobering to think that the Eisenhower administration balanced the budget three times in eight years. From the largest peacetime deficit in 1959 ($12.5 billion) -- a result of the recession and post-Sputnik spending -- fiscal year 1960 ended with a balanced budget and a surplus of $1.25 billion. For fiscal year 1961, Dwight Eisenhower transferred to his successor a "budget in balance." This accomplishment, painful to realize even 30 years ago, was achieved by a lame duck Republican president with a Democratic Congress.
How did he do it? He exercised his leadership abilities to the fullest extent. He was doggedly determined. And, particularly with respect to the defense portion, he laid on the line his prestige as a military man and his popularity with the American people. This was done at considerable personal risk, given the events of the day. The U-2 had just been shot down that May, Nikita Khrushchev was pressing on him with stepped up anti-American rhetoric and a number of prominent Republicans gave in to the rising national security hysteria of the so-called "missile gap" with strident requests for more defense money.
A man with a deep and abiding sense of stewardship, Eisenhower linked the nation's economic policy closely to his notion of national security. "The security of a nation, depends upon a balanced strength comprised of morale, economic productivity and military power," he said repeatedly throughout his presidency.
With an effective nuclear deterrent, Eisenhower considered economic mismanagement as perhaps a bigger threat to national security than the aggressive potential of the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, rather than seeing an arms buildup as a legitimate strategy for getting the Soviets to the bargaining table, Eisenhower's principal concern centered around the effect an arms buildup would have on America. "We need an adequate defense, but every defense dollar we spend above adequacy has a long-term weakening effect upon the nation and its security."
And in a 1953 speech he said: "This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
Part of his philosophy stemmed from his belief that communism had a potentially limited life span. He wrote in his memoirs, "When the day comes that the Communist peoples are as well-informed as those of free nations, then dissatisfaction, unrest and smoldering resentment among hundreds of millions will eventually bring about either reforms in their governmental structure or violent destruction of Communist dictatorships." To help spur this process, Eisenhower established USIA in 1953, the first citizen exchange program in 1956 and the first General Exchanges agreement with the Soviet Union in 1958.
Although his administration had to deal with Cold-War realities, in fact Eisenhower's viewpoint was more consistent with post-Cold War thinking. Perhaps a man before his time, it took courage to continually articulate a vision for the post-Cold War future in the depth of the freeze.
Although his hopes after World War II for continued cooperation with the Soviet Union were bitterly dashed, he believed, even before Stalin's death, that an integrated European community would serve both Western security and economic interests. Eisenhower said in the spring of 1953 that the United States would strive -- from the firm foundation of NATO -- "to foster a broader European community, conductive to the free movements of persons, of trade, and of ideas. ... A Europe that includes a free and United Germany with a government based on a free and secret ballot."
Were Dwight Eisenhower alive today, I feel certain he would be frustrated by our seeming inability to meet the historic opportunities for widespread democratization and economic transition in the world economy. These long-hoped-for developments were reached at too high a price -- with dollars spent "above adequacy" -- to now be given a low national priority.
I think it is fully possible that if we had maintained a steady fiscal course we would have arrived, most probably, at the same post-Cold War outcome he had envisioned. Had we made some of the tougher choices earlier, we might also have arrived in the new world order in a stronger economic state and without such a demoralizing loss of public will.
I have no doubt that he would see the current budget debacle as evidence of a serious decline in national purpose. More than once, he warned against "false promises of easy living," citing the "deadliest" internal enemy to be the "misled and complacent citizen."
Perhaps on this centennial day the best way to "remember Ike" is not to put him on a bronze horse, but to put the words from his farewell address on a bronze plaque to be hung in Congress and at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He said in his parting words from the Oval Office:
"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 risking 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."
The writer is one of Dwight Eisenhower's four grandchildren. She is a consultant to Western companies on economic and political developments in the Soviet Union.