(White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia) – We were on the road again this week, visiting the famed Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. It is a place steeped in politics and history, and is worth our giving some thought this election year. It made me think about political wisdom and one of our most underappreciated Presidents. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.
“I Like Ike” – It was a campaign button in 1952 and again in 1956, and what was not to like? General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower led allied forces to victory in World War II in Europe. He was a brilliant military man and, as it had for others before him - Washington, Jackson, and Grant – battlefield victory led him to the highest office in the land. Critics said Ike played too much golf and was a “caretaker” President in the White House. It simply is not true.
“The Bunker” – I thought of Eisenhower a lot this week because while we were at the lavish Greenbrier Resort, we toured the famed Congressional bunker, which was kept a national secret for 30 years. After World War II – and because of the Cold War – Eisenhower was concerned that the U.S. needed to maintain the continuity of government should we be attacked from abroad. He convinced the Greenbrier owners to build a secret, enormous underground bunker under the mammoth hotel, where Congress could be transported in case of an attack on Washington, DC (photo above).
“Fore-sight! – Yes, Eisenhower played a lot of golf, including on the legendary PGA courses at the Greenbrier. But the general in him also recognized that the huge resort – nestled in Southern West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains – could provide a secure and safe cover for Congress to carry on. The secret facility was completed in 1962, and almost saw use during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The cover was finally broken by a "Washington Post" article in 1992, when the bunker had essentially become obsolete due to precision missile technology.
“I-64, Where Are You?” – The Greenbrier is not far from Interstate 64, which would allow relatively easy car, truck, and bus access from our nation’s capital. This was another reflection of Eisenhower’s genius. Congress approved the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, at Eisenhower’s urging. Ike was fascinated by the Autobahn created by Adolf Hitler to move troops, tanks, and missiles across Europe in rapid fashion. Eisenhower envisioned a similar highway network for the United States. No, the Interstate system was not meant to get you to the beach faster; it was built to protect our nation in case of war. I’m stunned at how many people don’t know that!
“Wisdom” – Eisenhower did not have the charm of Kennedy, Reagan, or Clinton. He did not have the deep political network and know-how of FDR, LBJ, or Bush I. What Eisenhower possessed in great quantities was wisdom. Dictionaries describe wisdom as “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” It is further characterized as “the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.” The Greenbrier bunker and the Interstate Highway System are byproducts of Eisenhower’s collective wisdom.
“Final Tuesday” – The characterizations of wisdom I laid out here are not an accident. I’ve thought a lot this year about the “wisdom” of our Presidential candidates, and who might – or might not – have that trait in the necessary quantities. At one time or another in the past year, each of the candidates has said or done things that have made the public question their wisdom – or lack of it. We not only want to elect people who are qualified and competent, but we want them to act with wisdom. My street-level definition of a wise person is “someone who is able to see around corners.” It’s a rare commodity.
“What to Watch For” – This Tuesday marks the last big series of Presidential primaries, with New Jersey, New Mexico, and California among the six states holding primaries. (The others are North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.) As I have mentioned in recent weeks, Hillary Clinton is likely to win enough delegates in New Jersey to put her over the top for the nomination, well before the polls close out west. The night could end with Bernie Sanders winning California. Yes, Clinton would have the votes to be the nominee, but so much of the heart and soul of the Democratic Party would be with Sanders. What an odd vibe!
“Why All of this Matters” – We want people with experience, depth, and character to lead us. Many politicians have all three traits – in varying degrees - but the true wild card is wisdom. It is not a quality that everyone possesses in copious amounts. I am reminded of the prayer written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
“Stings Like a Bee” – As I completed this week’s column came word of the death of legendary boxer and political activist Muhammad Ali. He was not only the greatest boxer in history, but an icon of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. Whether people loved him or hated him (and there were plenty of both back then), he became one of the most iconic figures of the last century. At his peak, Ali was the most recognized person on the planet, more so than any Pope or President. May God rest his soul.
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Photo courtesy: greenbrier.com