With the adjourning of the 83rd Congress, in August of 1954, President Eisenhower took to the airwaves to give a report on what was accomplished and what still needed to be done. We had the Middle East, which was then (as now) the eternal powder keg. There was Iran, which was the object of a CIA-led coup, overthrowing the popular elected leader, replacing him with the monarchy – all over the threat of Communist intervention (or oil). There was talk about Health Insurance, the voting age; a lot of issues that seem as relevant in 2015 as they were 61 years ago:
President Eisenhower: “It seems to me that the best way to start this little talk is to do it against the backdrop of 19 months ago. Remember some of the crises that then existed in the world–crises, at least, as far as we were concerned. There was in Iran a fanatic in charge, who was supported by the Communist party, and weekly we felt there was a great danger that that huge reserve of oil would fall into the hands of the Communists. Sixty percent of the world’s known reserves of oil were at stake. We had a beachhead of international communism starting in Guatemala. We had a terrible war in Indochina. We had a great argument going on in the Suez between two of our great international friends. And of course, there was the war in Korea, a war around which there had grown up such a political situation that military victory, at least a decisive military victory, was no longer in the cards. It was a war that brought home to us a daily casualty list, with resulting sorrow in thousands of homes.
At home, aside from those casualty lists, there was the threat of inflation. It bothered us all. We were worried about the cheapening dollar and about the mounting prices, in spite of the rigid controls that the Federal Government was attempting to enforce.
Along with this, there was a mounting deficit in the Federal budget. Each year we were falling further and further into debt. We were spending more than we were collecting, and the situation was such as to cheapen our dollar, to make our debt and our interest payments greater and greater, and to give a resulting load to the taxpayer.
On top of this, for many months there had been an era of falling farm prices, and so the whole farm industry was suffering the effects of paying a lot of money for the things they had to buy, and getting little in return.
Now in this picture–in this situation–the administration took over a year ago last January, and determined on a very broad program for strengthening America, strengthening it at home spiritually, economically, and militarily, and making certain that it would be stronger internationally, insofar as its peace and security were concerned.
Now at home, to make it more secure, there were a number of things to do. First, there were great and broad economic measures, the relieving of controls, and all that sort of thing. There was the establishment of security measures, so as to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Communists to penetrate into the Government, or into any of the other great organisms of our country where they could weaken us, particularly in time of a crisis.
It was time for a new era of fair play, in which to treat everybody alike, to have no favored classes; and this administration was pledged to do everything it could for the benefit of 160 million American people, and not for any single group, any single area, or any single geographic section.
And then there was noticeable at that time, you will recall, a growing and continuing trend toward centralization in the Federal Government-centralization of power and authority in Washington–with our affairs more and more being dictated by a bureaucrat in that city.
This administration was committed to decentralization–decentralizing our own individual affairs to ourselves where that was possible, and in Government decentralizing as far as possible to the States. You will recall that there was even an attempt at that time to take away from some of the States their own property, their own territory. We passed the tidelands bill to restore to those States their title to their proper lands.
At the same time, we were in all sorts of businesses. We were making synthetic rubber. We were operating barge lines. We were operating coffee roasting plants and clothing stores, and making rope.
Well, we have been getting out of them, so as to return to you, the American people, the maximum of initiative, the maximum responsibility and authority in your own affairs.
Now, in the international field, it was plain, with these mounting deficits, we had to provide for our own security, as economically and effectively, and as efficiently as possible.
That has been the program of the administration.
So defense authorities, instead of just saying, “Let’s go out and buy a lot of security,” determined priorities in which we should build our defense forces. We have tried to minimize the effort on those that seemed less essential in this day of the atomic bomb, to put our emphasis on those that seemed to offer us the greatest security. This of course applies to our air power, not only in the Air Force, but also in the Navy, which in itself deploys now a tremendous amount of air power and contributes markedly to our defense.
Along with all of this, we tried, through talks–full and frank talks with our allies–to establish better relationships, to get closer to them, to know exactly where we were going, in spirit, in the development of our economic measures, and in the building of our military measures. NATO, of course, existed before this administration came in; I was serving in NATO when I was in Europe during my last tour. It was at the great Caracas conference, where all American countries agreed that any penetration by international communism into this continent would be considered as a threat to all. And that conference had much to do with the final elimination of the threat in Guatemala.
Ever since we came in, we have been trying to establish a concert of nations in Southeast Asia. On April 16, 1953, I made a speech on peace in the world, in which I urged that the free nations undertake that project.
Now, in Indochina, war has ceased, under circumstances that are certainly not satisfactory to all of us. In some respects they are disappointing, but at least we have an opportunity again to tackle that problem of getting a concert of nations that will make the whole region safer and more secure for freedom.
Now this program at home can be defined best, I think, by saying this: that it has been a liberal program in all of those things that bring the Federal Government in contact with the individual, when it deals with the individual and his problems; in this field, the Government tries to be humane, considerate, and sympathetic–and that is true liberalism. But when it comes to the economy of this country, your pocketbook, and your taxes, it tries to be conservative.
So it is conservative in the economy, liberal in human affairs.
We have been developing a program that would bring about a national situation in which every citizen would have reason for bold hope, in which effort would be rewarded, in which prosperity would be shared, freedom would expand, and peace would be as secure as humans can make it.
It is a great program. It is a program to benefit all Americans”.
The world has changed a lot since August of 1954 – the names and places have changed – the circumstances different, to a degree.
The problems – always the same.
Here is that complete address, given by President Eisenhower on August 23, 1954.