Vote for Washington and Eisenhower in 2016

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President Eisenhower during his farewell address to the nation, Jan. 17, 1961.

Recently I read this headline:

House passes $585 Billion Military Budget for 2015

My mind immediately turned to the farewell addresses given by George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower some 165 years apart.

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Washington warned Americans to:

avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.

Eisenhower warned:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.

Washington Farewell AddressThe final Defense Authorization Act of 2015 will likely pass the Senate this week and then be signed by the President, even with provisions cutting benefits to soldiers and their families while including billions for pork and special projects inserted by members of Congress to take care of the “home folks.” No huge surprise but terribly troubling, given the sacrifices our soldiers are making.

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It’s as if we value machines more than people.

Any outrage over this budget is muted and limited to appropriations for acquiring land by the Department of Interior, and whether certain airplanes and aircraft carriers are really needed, but the halls of Congress and the White House are silent when it comes to questioning why we must spend our way into bankruptcy to wage war around the world and neglect the needs of our own citizens at home.

I know it isn’t practical or realistic, but I like to imagine and dream about a year without building more bombs, bullets and bivouacking troops. Imagine the roads, bridges and schools we could build with just one year’s budget. I wonder: couldn’t we make do with what we’ve got for just a single year?

Maybe spend the cost of one aircraft carrier on paying our soldiers a living wage? Maybe not practice firing a billion dollars worth of missiles at targets? Maybe spend it instead on the men and women who have come home with head injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan? Maybe not purchase fleets of vehicles and weapons we will eventually abandon in the Middle East to terrorists and instead send scientists to outer space? Maybe spend the billions we spend on bullets on the arts and humanities, or to promote peace instead of torture and death? The list is endless, but where are the voices floating such dreams? Not in Congress, not in the White House? But why?

The why is easy. It is exactly what those two military heroes-turned-Presidents warned us about – money and the influence it exerts on our government. Despite the fact that Washington’s Farewell Address is read on the floor of the Senate once a year, apparently no one is listening. I suspect the chamber is relatively empty when it happens.

Is there an answer? Ironically, we might find a few clues in that very same address. In it, Washington also suggests being leery of political parties. To Washington, political parties were a deep threat to the health of the nation for they allowed “a small but artful and enterprising minority” to “put in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of a party.” Sound familiar? Did Washington foresee a time in which members of Congress would vote lock-step with their party even when it went against the national interest?

Washington also warned of too much power being held by one branch of government. He noted that those checks and balances established in the Constitution must be followed, and

[i]f, in the opinion of the people, the distribution … of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way, which the constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for, though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

Remind you of anything?

We will soon be overwhelmed with the lofty words of people seeking to be the next President of the United States. I will be listening and I hope you will too — to what they say about the military-industrial complex and our role in the world. If their response is more of the same old rhetoric, perhaps its time we stop rewarding them with our votes and support.

Let me close with some words from Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, delivered in 1961:

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Words to be remembered and heeded.