Friday, March 9, 2012

Conservatives Used to Love America at Least a Little, What Went Wrong

Conservatives Used to Love America at Least a Little, What Went Wrong

Does anyone else remember the Western Hemisphere's only functioning socialist paradise? In that bygone land, the top income-tax bracket for millionaires was 90 percent. Thanks to a heavily—and proudly—unionized workforce, collective bargaining resolved most labor-management disputes. To stave off recession, the government instituted the largest public-works program in Country X's history, from which its now largely unwitting citizens still benefit today.

Although Country X did possess a sizable nuclear deterrent, the trade-off was a reduction in spending on conventional military capabilities. "Our most valuable, our most costly asset is our young men. Let's don't use them any more than we have to," was the typically commonsensical explanation given by paradise's wildly popular leader for his reluctance to commit Country X to adventurist foreign wars. Despite an excruciating level of world tension at the time, not a single member of Country X's armed forces died in battle on his watch.

Those happy days were America’s. True, it would be going much too far to call Dwight D. Eisenhower the architect of the United States in the 1950s. From the GI bill's vital role in creating the midcentury middle class to our powerhouse postwar economy, the catbird seat America then occupied wasn't Ike's doing. Well, except in the sense that winning World War II made it all possible, and he'd been the guy who said "OK, we'll go" on D-Day.

But Eisenhower the president was more than paradise's caretaker. At the very least, he's the man who made it all seem normal. That's some achievement when you think of the astounding metamorphoses in American life, self-perception, and role on the world stage that his reign enshrined.

Besides being the most underestimated president of the 20th century, Eisenhower deserves to be every Democrat's favorite Republican White House occupant this side of Abraham Lincoln. The reasons range from creating an Interstate highway system that's rightly named for him and deciding to perpetuate the New Deal, to his crucial decision to enforce Brown v. Board of Education in the teeth of Southern resistance. No militant on civil rights, Ike nonetheless ordered the 101st Airborne to Little Rock in the crunch to remind everybody that even unpopular Supreme Court decisions had better be respected. If not for that resolve, desegregation might have ended before it began.

The record elsewhere isn't all rosy. If Eisenhower kept the military on a short leash, he let the feeling-its-oats CIA run amok. The U.S.-engineered 1953 coup that put the Shah of Iran in power is one sin whose consequences we're still living with, and the scars from our similar operation in Guatemala took a long time to heal (if they have). Nor should we forget that the Bay of Pigs was dreamed up during his tenure, though whether he'd have ever green-lit a plan so patently stupid is debatable. Our whole sorry Cold War pattern of sub rosa interventions and propped-up dictatorships in the Third World was largely created on Ike's watch. While he's seldom thought of as a villain, Latin Americans—among others—would have every right to call him just that.
For patriotic Americans to wish that modern Anti-American conservatives were even half as reasonable and even half as patriotic and competent as Eisenhower is a fantasy that will never come true. They seem intent on taking about law and culture back to the days of the treasonous Antebellum South or some European monarchy of the 15th century.