Listener Essay - I Liked Ike

Jun 23, 2016


  This listener essay is by Steve Lewis. 

I Liked Ike

I liked Ike. He looked like a nice man on the red, white and blue button I saw on someone’s lapel at the Bohack’s. Somebody’s grandpa. He also looked kind of snappy saluting the troops in that tan Army uniform on the newsreels at the Roslyn Movie Theater.

My parents, Jewish immigrants from the boroughs, liked Stevenson, the tall bald guy famous for having a hole in the sole of his shoe. They said, with that adult shake of the head, that he was “very smart, very smart,” which I figured meant that Ike was probably not so sharp. So when my first grade teacher asked who we were voting for I made the brainy choice and raised my right hand for Adlai, my left hand pushing my right elbow up above Joan Nordlinger’s hand waving furiously next to mine. But I privately hoped the nice man with a kindly smile on the button would win.

Sixty-some years later, now a frayed, faded lifelong liberal Democrat, I still like Ike. Given a different forum, I might even wax on about his prescient warnings regarding the military-industrial complex, his expansion of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, yadda yadda. But when all the layers and layers of faux intellectual paint I’ve worn over the decades is scraped away, I have to admit that I liked Ike—and I still like Ike—for no better reason other than I liked the kindness in his eyes, the lack of affect in the way he spoke through the Dumont television in our Long Island den. What I imagined, years later, Neil Young was talking about in “Heart of Gold.”

So here it is 2016, fifteen misbegotten elections past “I Like Ike”—and I’m still searching the levers in the voting booth for the Heart of Gold Party, for that one good soul hidden among the almost unbroken line of reprehensible presidential candidates who have, one by one by one by one, ad nauseam, made me want to throw a brick through a series of televisions leading up to present 46” flat screen Panasonic.

Not a truly virtuous or kind man or woman among them. Everyone—every one—every single one—spinning shameless bald-faced lies right in our faces. Each one a card sharp with something up the sleeve.

It’s a tribute to something in the American spirit that we haven’t all stumbled out of polling stations screaming about zombies and bloodsuckers, vowing never to vote again.

And come November I will be once again be transported back to my small wooden desk at the I.U. Willets Road Elementary School, my hand reaching toward the ceiling, Joan Nordlinger at my side, channeling the public displays and private wishes of a mute six year old bouncing around in a battered old crate. I will be hoping beyond all reasonable hope and experience and prudence that global climate change might actually make hell freeze over and suddenly there will be some savior out there who appears out of nowhere, some political deus ex machina like the sweet smiling Ike of my first grade memory: an honest human being to the core, someone who is kind and good and wise and strong. Someone as virtuous and ethical as everyone in this country wishes our president would be.

Maybe someone like the original Atticus Finch, as good a fictional man as ever lived. Or someone decent and muscular and hard-working like Rosie the Riveter. Maybe someone with the dignity and grace of Paul Robeson, or the spunk of my late Aunt Miriam, who stood right up to Uncle Mac and always brought a present from Woolworths whenever she came to visit.

I could even get on the bandwagon for Antoine de Saint Exupery’s Little Prince who knew a thing or two about matters of importance. And as long as I’m indulging myself in pure indulgence, let me make the classic Dan Quayle mistake of confusing television and real life—and cast my wishful thinking vote for Josiah Bartlet.

As that crazy old misogynistic coot Papa Hemingway once wrote, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”