The Eisenhower Memorial: The Crucial Weeks
For more than a month, members of my family and I have been engaged in private meetings to see what common ground is left between us and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. We deferred Frank Gehry’s invitation to meet with him again for two reasons. First, Mr. Gehry’s client is the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Since they have the authority and the responsibility for the memorial, it is their obligation to present their proposal to the American people. Second, we strongly assert that a number of critical issues between the Eisenhower family and the Memorial Commission must to be ironed out if we are going to engage with them in any meaningful way.
This weekend the Washington Post will be running a highly visible article about the Eisenhower Memorial. This will be followed by a full Commission meeting on Tuesday, at which Gehry Partners will unveil Frank Gehry’s latest design changes. We hope that the Washington Post piece will be fair and accurate – but we are understandably concerned. Art critic Philip Kennicott has already made his endorsement of the memorial design well known. He also has been critical of the Eisenhower family’s position. (It is disappointing that the Washington Post continues to use a columnist for such reporting tasks.) With respect to the Gehry changes, we will review them early next week to determine whether or not our family can support the new memorial design.
Of greatest concern to us now is the need for an improved process—one that brings the voices of ordinary Americans to this continuing debate and makes the Eisenhower Memorial Commission staff more accountable and responsive to the public in this debate. Recently, an opposition group publically called into question the GSA architectural selection process. According to a report by Politico: “The commission shot back, saying it’s ‘not going to dignify [their] attack.’” Chris Cimko, spokeswoman for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, went on to say that this “impugns the integrity of the commission, which includes four senators, four members of the House of Representatives and four Americans appointed by the president of the United States, including David Eisenhower, who served as a commissioner for over a decade.”
All Americans have the right and the obligation to speak up on issues regarding the expenditure of public funds. We cannot support any attempt by the Commission staff to hide behind their distinguished Commissioners as a way to avoid answering public questions. I am sure these public figures had no idea their names were being used to silence legitimate concerns.
If Dwight David Eisenhower was a great man, it was not just because of what he did but because of how he did it. He would deplore those who have personalized this debate, rather than focusing their arguments on the merits of the Gehry design. And, he would have stopped in its tracks any high-handed effort to talk down to any American taxpayer who has a justifiable or reasonable viewpoint. Getting the process right, treating people with respect, and keeping one’s word are the hallmarks of leadership. We should expect nothing less from those who have been selected to work in his name.