With a $1.2 trillion sequester looming, the funding for the federal government set to run out in about a month's time, and the issue of the debt ceiling still lurking out there it may seem trivial for Congress to focus its attention on other things. The economy, after all is important—perhaps the most important issue with which we expect federal legislators to grapple. Nevertheless there are other issues, issues that are important culturally and historically, that deserve the Congress's time and attention—even in a period of economic chaos such as we are now experiencing.
Some time ago the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of a memorial to America's 34th president, Dwight David Eisenhower. A legendary figure, "Ike" was the man who won the war in Europe and established NATO as a significant military presence at a critical time in the Cold War. As president he oversaw the reconversion of the United States to a peacetime economy, modernized the armed forces, ended the war in Korea, and led the nation for eight years that were generally peaceful and prosperous.
In hindsight, Eisenhower was a much better president than he was given credit for being during the time he occupied the White House. It is perfectly appropriate that his accomplishments be recorded for posterity in some kind of national memorial. Unfortunately, the design that has been proposed and initially approved is more a monument to the alleged genius of the architect who designed it than it is to the memory of the man to whom it is dedicated.
The approved design, conceived by architect Frank Gehry—who is best know for designing buildings in urban and educational settings that look like they are melting in the hot sun—is a mélange of screens, pillars, and other objects that obscure rather than clarify for history the nature of Eisenhower's accomplishments.
According to a number of sources, the Eisenhower family hates it. So does just about anyone who has ever seen a depiction of the finished product. It is oversized, overwhelming, and overdone—especially given the proximity of its planned four-acre site to the United States Capitol. Moreover, and this would surely make the man himself blanch at the thought, at $140 million the projected cost exceeds what was spent on the memorials to Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, or the Washington Monument—most of which will be borne by the U.S. taxpayer.
In the city of Alexandria, Va., just across the river from Washington, there is a traffic circle at one end of Eisenhower Avenue that has, at its center, a statue of the general in his army uniform. Set back from the street, appropriately sized for its location, it is tribute to the man, not the sculptor. This should be the guiding principle under which Congress should allow the Eisenhower presidential memorial to move forward. There is no need at all for the post-modern excesses of the current design—if anything the so-called "modern era" came about in reaction to the staid normalcy of the Eisenhower presidency.
Congress should take the lead in declaring that the current design should be scrapped, Mr. Gehry should be given a pink slip, and the process started over again from scratch. Well, not completely from scratch since we now have a good idea of what we don't want. The objective is for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to come up with a new design that would more suitably honor the memory of the man, the solider, and the statesman it purports to commemorate.