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Be Like Ike

4:16 PM, Sep 28, 2011 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
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An instructive name pops up somewhere between Chris Christie's speech/answer at the Reagan Library this week and Bill Kristol's reaction here. That name is Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Chris Christie at townhall

Governor Christie is correct, to some degree, to believe that the ambition to be president must reside in the heart—or the belly, depending on your metaphor—and Bill is equally correct to suggest that the heart should respond when duty calls. So I was struck not only by the qualities that Christie describes in his ideal public servant—qualities that could surely describe Eisenhower—and the circumstances which impelled Eisenhower to run for president 59 years ago.

I should begin, of course, by acknowledging that Governor Christie is the freshman chief executive of New Jersey and that the five-star General Eisenhower had been supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, Army chief of staff, president of Columbia University, and military commander of NATO. But as President Obama can testify, experience and qualification are not the sole criteria for election to the presidency.

In 1948, Democrats as various as Franklin Roosevelt's son James, Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, and even a discouraged President Truman, had sought to recruit Ike for the Democratic presidential nomination that year. Eisenhower's response, at the time, was that he did not believe that soldiers should seek public office: "The Army is truly national," he said, and he thought that the ideal of the citizen-soldier in a democratic army would be tainted by partisan politics.

By 1952, however, circumstances persuaded him to change his mind. First, he believed that the Truman administration, beset by minor scandals and representing 20 uninterrupted years of Democratic dominance in Washington, had been compromised abroad by weakness at home. And second, the odds-on favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination was America's most prominent isolationist, Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio. Taft had not only resisted the general Republican trend away from isolation during World War II—personified by the famous 1943 conversion speech of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan—but in 1949 had been the Senate's most vigorous opponent of American participation in NATO. Eisenhower was not only an architect of NATO but a resolute believer in the importance of American leadership in the postwar world.

And so, despite his sincere belief in the separation of soldiers and politics, and desire at age 62 to retire, Ike surveyed the landscape, concluded that there was no one in a better position to save the GOP from itself and unite the country, and answered the summons of Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, and other prominent Republicans, to return to America from Paris, resign from the Army, and run for president.       

This could well have been the last instance of somebody running for president by answering the call of duty to their country. But Governor Christie might also reflect on Ike’s career and ask himself whether he should wait to hear from his heart, or listen to his head.

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