When Republicans of the pre-Trump era are asked who their favorite president of the past century was, most will respond with alacrity, Ronald Reagan. I also have deep admiration for “the Gipper”, a great president whose foreign policies resulted in American victory in the Cold War and whose economic policies resulted in the most sustained and healthy national prosperity since the end of the Second World War.
Yet Reagan is not my favorite president of my lifetime. That designation I give to Dwight David Eisenhower, a president whose monumental accomplishments are largely unknown to most Americans.
During the campaign of 1952, Ike had promised to end the Korean War, which appeared to be a conflict hopelessly without end at the time of his January, 1953 inauguration. He achieved an armistice by July, 1953.
Ike made the decision for America not to intervene on behalf of the French colonialists in Vietnam in 1954, despite strong recommendations to do so from the then Vice President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. If only Eisenhower’s successors had had his wisdom.
Ike enacted in 1956 the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act. In a nutshell, this legislation created our present Interstate Highways System, which made possible the growth and flourishing of American suburbia.
In his second term, Eisenhower became the first President since Reconstruction to implement a comprehensive agenda of civil rights for African-Americans. In 1957, he made history by his enforcement of court-ordered desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, overcoming the opposition of then-Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus. This was followed by his formulation and signing into law the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, the first civil rights legislation enacted since Reconstruction.
All this record of success has qualified Ike as one of our five greatest presidents, the other four being George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the two Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin. At long last, historians are waking up to this reality and giving Eisenhower the credit he well deserves.
There is, of course, the other aspect of Eisenhower being First in War as well as First in Peace. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, Eisenhower led the greatest coalition of armed forces in world history, vanquishing the tyranny of Nazi Germany. In that position, Ike demonstrated unsurpassed political and moral leadership.
In acting as both America’s Chief Executive and Chief Policymaker, Eisenhower followed four principles: 1) Pragmatic centrism; 2) rejection of extremist ideologies; 3) moral leadership; and 3) a primary concern for humaneness. There has been no New Jersey member of Congress since Ike left office in 1961 that has more faithfully followed these four Eisenhower principles than Congressman Leonard Lance, representing New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional District. Indeed, in New Jersey’s political history, the two leading exemplars of Eisenhower Republicanism have been the late Bernard Shanley, who served in a variety of critical positions in the Eisenhower White House, and Leonard Lance.
It is this Eisenhower concern for humaneness and moral leadership that has motivated Leonard Lance to become the leading New Jersey Republican opponent of President Trump’s anti-immigration measures. These new Trumpian policies and rules constitute a despicable agenda of inhumane xenophobic strictures having a most destructive impact on immigrant families.
Recently, there has been an increased focus on the cruelty inflicted by the Trump anti-immigration agenda on families from regions of violence throughout the Western Hemisphere crossing our border to seek refuge. The media has reported a veritable plethora of incidents of federally compelled breakup of these families, detention of parents at the border, and 1,474 children that federal agencies lost track of after placement with sponsors.
Yet perhaps the most morally offensive Trump immigration policy involves DACA: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This program is the arena in which Leonard Lance is taking on the Trump administration.
DACA is a federal government program created in 2012 as an executive policy decision by former President Barack Obama to allow people brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study and work in America. Applicants are vetted for any criminal history or national security risk. They must be students or have completed school or military service. Upon passage of vetting, action to deport them is deferred for two years, with a chance to renew, and they become eligible for basics like a driving license, college enrollment or a work permit.
The DACA program was a compromise executive policy statement devised by the Obama administration after Congress failed to pass the so-called Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act, which would have offered those who had arrived illegally as children the chance of permanent legal residency. Those protected under DACA are known as the Dreamers.
Given the xenophobic essence of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, it was no surprise that on the stump, Donald Trump targeted the DACA program for extinction. In September, 2017, the Trump administration announced the rescission of the program, with the Dreamers to lose all their rights and privileges by 2020.
There was no contesting the fact that the consequences for the Dreamers and their families would be horrific. Trump tried to mitigate the political consequences of the DACA rescission by stating that he would consider a legislative alternative solution. This was, however, a cruel, false promise. To Trump and his xenophobic base, DACA is a form of amnesty, a most obscene political word in Trumpist America.
Accordingly, since Trump took office, not a single DACA renewal bill has reached the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. Trump lapdog Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan has taken care of that.
There is only one way to get around the arbitrary and capricious Ryan obstruction. It is by means of a rarely used legislative maneuver: a discharge petition.
Pursuant to a discharge petition, a majority of House members can force a floor vote by signing a document demanding this course of action. There is presently a discharge petition on DACA renewal making its way through the House of Representatives, approaching the needed number. Only one Republican member of the New Jersey House of Representatives delegation has signed this discharge petition. Not surprisingly, that Congressman is Leonard Lance.
In embracing the cause of the Dreamers, Lance demonstrated the quality of political courage, as well as the aforementioned qualities of humaneness and moral leadership. He put it succinctly: “I don’t use the word mutiny, but I will say that it’s the first discharge petition I have signed while we’ve been in the majority. These young people (the Dreamers) remain in a state of limbo and I don’t think that’s fair to them. They are, for all intents and purposes, Americans….”
I don’t know how successful ultimately the discharge petition will be. Even if DACA renewal legislation passes the House, it is highly unlikely that it will pass the Senate. And if by some stroke of good fortune it does, a Trump veto is certain.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, New Jersey can be most proud of Leonard Lance. And so can the Republican Party.
In an era where most Republicans have foolishly forgotten the magnificent legacy of Eisenhower Republicanism, Leonard Lance has kept its flame alive. As long as Leonard Lance sits in the House of Representatives, the legacy of Eisenhower Republicanism will be alive and well in both our nation’s capital and in the Garden State.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.