Eisenhower and the American Crusades

By Herbert S. Parmet | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 39
Reflections in a Washington Snowstorm

T HREE DAYS BEFORE the urbane forty-three-year-old Democrat and his chic wife would move into the White House, Dwight D. Eisenhower, closing fifty years of public service, sat in his office and prepared to speak to the American people. The speech had been further revised by his brother Milton, upon whom Ike had been so dependent throughout the past eight years; and the President was satisfied that he could leave behind no message of greater importance. A few seconds after eight-thirty on the night of January 17, before a battery of television cameras, the President went on the air.

He spoke slowly, earnestly and with no trace of levity. Several words eluded his tongue and, at some points, he departed from the prepared text or corrected his lapses, as though his eyes had been unable to follow the script. One unfamiliar with Eisenhower could have guessed that he was uncertain or nervous. His delivery had often been more vigorous and fluent; but when it was over, liberals and conservatives alike applauded its contents.

About three-quarters of the way through, his theme came into sharper focus. He urged avoidance of "the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow." Then, with additional emphasis and deliberation, he said: "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." Noting also, indirectly, the growing political polarization that marked his closing days -- despite all his efforts to maintain moderation -- he warned that America "must avoid becoming a community of

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