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2016 Election

I Like Ike, I Like Jim

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I like Ike. Most people do. Dwight D. Eisenhower remains a unifying figure whose popularity cuts across partisan lines, a truly great American. For the people of an older generation, he was the Supreme Allied Commander; the man who beat Hitler and liberated Europe from Nazi tyranny. His popularity was second only to Franklin Roosevelt[1]. For the millions of men who served under him in the American army sent to the European Theater, their admiration knew no bounds.

Ike was, above all, an honorable man. He was urged by supporters to run for the Presidency in 1948; even then President Truman (who had been elected VP only) offered to be the General’s running mate should Douglas MacArthur win the Republican nomination. Eisenhower refused: he said a general should not take any political job “from dog catcher to Grand High Supreme King of the Universe.” Nor did he use his immense influence to speak for or against any candidate. Harry Truman went on to beat Thomas Dewey in the most famous come-back electoral victory in US history.

The same situation developed in the run up to the 1952 election. Exhausted by the Korean War and having served as President for 7 years, Truman decided not to run for re-election. Instead, he pressed Eisenhower to run in his place and vowed to support him. So did the Republicans. How often does it happen in US politics that both parties are desperately courting the same person? Eventually, Eisenhower acquiesced to run on the Republican ticket. He was forced to accept Richard Nixon as his running mate, a decision he regretted for he found Nixon to be odious.

Ike changed his mind and ran for President, not from ambition or a desire for personal power; it was the danger he saw for his country in the nascent Cold War and his sense of duty that impelled him to accept – rather than seek – nomination. As President, he valued pragmatism over dogma, sought moderate solutions to problems and refused to be needless drawn into the many potential conflicts of the time. He promised a frugal Administration, but promoted and signed the Interstate Highway System that bears his naming, knowing from first-hand experience[2] the importance of a world-class transportation infrastructure. He also created NASA and expanded funding for aerospace research, though it was his successor Kennedy who reaped the benefit.

He was no warmonger, like most combat veterans. He vowed to end the Korean War and did. He refused to involve the US in the French effort to reconquer Vietnam or to oppose the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, despite the urgings of the Joint Chiefs and hardline anti-communists of his Administration. “When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war.” He warned us against the undue influence of the military-industrial complex he saw growing up around the permanent military required by the Cold War. His foreign policy was criticized by all sides, but he knew the limits of American power and was judicious in its use: “We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.” When he did send in the troops, it was the order the 101st Airborne to enforce compliance of the federal desegregation order in Little Rock High School.

ike and jim

Jim Webb is a lot like Ike. The Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 2016 has many similarities with the Great Kansan[3]. I’m not saying he’s Eisenhower come again; but he is cast in the same mold. Born to a military family in Missouri, young Jim moved frequently in his youth. He was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland and graduated with honors. He served as a platoon commander in the 1st Battalion 5th Marines in Vietnam and was highly decorated for his service, being awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. These latter awards were for wounds he received in combat that also ended his military career; he carries the shrapnel in his knee, kidney and head to this day.

Mr. Webb then studied law at Georgetown University, graduating with a Juris Doctor degree. Under the Reagan Administration, he served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Veterans Affairs and then as the Secretary of the Navy. After resigning this position in 1988, Mr. Webb dedicated himself to writing books and making films, where he received wide acclaim. His novel “Fields of Fire” about Marines serving in Vietnam, remains a classic; and he won an Emmy Award for his 1983 coverage of U.S. Marines in Beirut.

Like Ike, Jim Webb is a combat veteran who hates war without being a pacifist. He opposed escalation of the US commitment to Saudi Arabia without a coherent plan in the 1990 First Gulf War, and then opposed keeping a permanent military presence in the Gulf. He evaluated the Bush Administration to launch the Second Gulf War in 2003 as “the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory” and he was right.

Nor is Webb a career politician. He has held public office when asked to do so out of a sense of duty; and that same sense of duty has led him to run for elected office. In 2006, Mr. Webb ran for Senator of Virginia against George Allen, a man he had previously endorsed for the position of Governor of the state. The former Marine had promised during the campaign that he would only serve a single term as Senator if he won; and in 2012, he kept his promise by refusing to seek reelection, instead supporting former Democratic Governor, Tim Kaine. And though he seemed content to return to private life, a sense of duty has impelled Jim Webb to seek election for the highest office in the Republic.

For all these reasons, I support Jim Webb for President. He is, above all, an honorable man; a man who puts his duty before his interest. He is a combat veteran who knows the price of war. He carries it with him in his flesh, in the form of metal shell fragments, and in his soul, in the letters he has had to write to the mothers of dead Marines. Too many politicians and pundits decry the “weakness” of Barack Obama and describe how tough they’d be on Iran, or North Korea or China; but these are people who have never heard the supersonic crack of a bullet going past their head or held a dying comrade in their arms. While their sons and daughters have studied in the halls of Harvard and Yale, Jim Webb’s son served in the Marine Corps and was deployed in combat in Iraq. As President, Mr. Webb might indeed find it unavoidable to order our brave men and women into combat in a distant land, perhaps to die; but before sending someone else’s child, he and his own children will have gone before them.

As a politician, Mr. Webb is no ideologue. In any measure, he does not ask if it is favorable for his party or the other, he only asks “is this best for America?” He is a Democrat from the center, but has voted with Republicans and convinced Republicans to vote with him. This country desperately needs a leader who can cross the isle and convince others to do so.

I like Jim Webb. That’s why I endorse him as the best candidate to occupy the office of President of the United States of America. An honorable man, a man who knows duty: with my vote I will entrust him with that awful power and responsibility.


Sources and Notes

[1] George C. Marshall, “the Great Virginian” and also a military man, might have given Ike a run for his money.

[2] As a major assigned to the General Pershing’s staff, Ike had to organize the TransContinental Army convoy in 1919 and experienced intimately the logistical difficulties of moving troops and equipment across the US over poor roads. He also saw the impressive autobahns built by Hitler to speed the Wehrmacht across Germany during the 1930’s and early ‘40’s.

[3] Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas; but he always considered Abilene, Kansas his home and that is where he is laid to rest.

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