Forty-seven years ago, my grandfather Dwight D. Eisenhower bid farewell to a nation he had served for more than five decades. In his televised address, Ike famously coined the term "military-industrial complex," and he offered advice that is still relevant today. "As we peer into society's future," he said, we "must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."Photo: Susan Eisenhower, Chairman Emeritus - Eisenhower Institute
Today we are engaged in a debate about these very issues. Deep in America's heart, I believe, is the nagging fear that our best years as a nation may be over. We are disliked overseas and feel insecure at home. We watch as our federal budget hemorrhages red ink and our civil liberties are eroded. Crises in energy, health care and education threaten our way of life and our ability to compete internationally. There are also the issues of a costly, unpopular war; a long-neglected infrastructure; and an aging and increasingly needy population.
I am not alone in worrying that my generation will fail to do what my grandfather's did so well: Leave America a better, stronger place than the one it found.
Given the magnitude of these issues and the cost of addressing them, our next president must be able to bring about a sense of national unity and change. As we no longer have the financial resources to address all these problems comprehensively and simultaneously, setting priorities will be essential. With hard work, much can be done.
The biggest barrier to rolling up our sleeves and preparing for a better future is our own apathy, fear or immobility. We have been living in a zero-sum political environment where all heads have been lowered to avert being lopped off by angry, noisy extremists. I am convinced that Barack Obama is the one presidential candidate today who can encourage ordinary Americans to stand straight again; he is a man who can salve our national wounds and both inspire and pursue genuine bipartisan cooperation. Just as important, Obama can assure the world and Americans that this great nation's impulses are still free, open, fair and broad-minded.
No measures to avert the serious, looming consequences can be taken without this sense of renewal. Uncommon political courage will be required. Yet this courage can be summoned only if something profoundly different transpires. Putting America first -- ahead of our own selfish interests -- must be our national priority if we are to retain our capacity to lead.
The last time the United States had an open election was 1952. My grandfather was pursued by both political parties and eventually became the Republican nominee. Despite being a charismatic war hero, he did not have an easy ride to the nomination. He went on to win the presidency -- with the indispensable help of a "Democrats for Eisenhower" movement. These crossover voters were attracted by his pledge to bring change to Washington and by the prospect that he would unify the nation.
It is in this great tradition of crossover voters that I support Barack Obama's candidacy for president. If the Democratic Party chooses Obama as its candidate, this lifelong Republican will work to get him elected and encourage him to seek strategic solutions to meet America's greatest challenges. To be successful, our president will need bipartisan help.
Given Obama's support among young people, I believe that he will be most invested in defending the interests of these rising generations and, therefore, the long-term interests of this nation as a whole. Without his leadership, our children and grandchildren are at risk of growing older in a marginalized country that is left to its anger and divisions. Such an outcome would be an unacceptable legacy for any great nation.
Susan Eisenhower, a business consultant, is the author of four books, most recently "Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation After the Cold War."
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