Opposition to Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial Is Clearly Bipartisan | Commentary

In their letter “It’s Time to Finish Ike’s Memorial,” retired Gen. P.X. Kelley and Frank Fahrenkopf assert that the Eisenhower Memorial controversy has become a “partisan and ideological sideshow.” Oddly, they never say which parties and ideologies are involved.

Odder still, the authors never say who is to blame for the alleged descent into partisanship: Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., who called on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to host a new competition? Or could it be President Barack Obama, who appointed a vociferous opponent of the design to that commission?

On the flip side, perhaps the authors have in mind the bill sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to reboot the memorial with a new competition — except that bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee by unanimous voice vote.

What are we to make of the fact that Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, oversaw the passage of bills that zeroed construction funds? Remarkably, both of them sit on the Eisenhower Commission. As chairmen of their respective appropriation committees, neither of them went to bat for their very own project. Indeed, not one of the seven congressmen who serve on the commission publicly spoke out against legislation defunding the memorial, including the fiscal 2014 budget.

Perhaps those commissioners were heeding the concerns of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, who served as vice chairman of the commission. He also was one of the two co-sponsors of the legislation authorizing the memorial. In an August 2012 letter to his follow commissioners, Inouye wrote, “given the continued opposition with the Eisenhower family, I question whether we can ever resolve the differences ... and whether it would be in our best interest to continue to move forward.”

If you’re confused about the alleged partisanship, you’re not to blame.

Kelley and Fahrenkopf do not name names, nor do they provide any evidence for their accusation, because they are making the whole thing up. To quote in Jeffrey Frank in The New Yorker, the design “has managed to achieve something rare in Washington: in true bipartisan spirit, almost everyone hates it.”

The proposal has been opposed in The New Republic as well as by liberals such as Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. The Post’s architecture critic, as far from a Republican as one can imagine, commented that “[T]he columns have a mute blankness that may read as Soviet.” Writing for the Guardian, Nicolaus Mills, author of “Their Last Battle: The Fight for the National World War II Memorial,” recommended a new, simplified design.

On the right, the current proposal has been opposed by just about every leading conservative publication, and by the likes of George Will and David Brooks.

Newspapers that have come out against the plan include the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, New York Post, Washington Examiner, Kearney (Neb.) Hub, Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, Wichita Eagle, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Baltimore Sun and Boston Globe. Most recently, a member of the Kansas City Star editorial board chastised the Eisenhower Commission for pushing forward despite the overwhelming opposition. Are we to assume these outlets and authors all share the same political outlook?

The authors also make the astonishing claim that the $142 million project is “shovel-ready.” This will come as an unpleasant surprise to the National Capital Planning Commission, which has not even given preliminary approval to the memorial.

Another charge Kelley and Fahrenkopf assert is that the opposition’s “only goal seems to be to halt Eisenhower’s memorialization.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. The very op-ed they are objecting to demands that a better memorial be constructed, just as Bishop’s bill mandates a new competition.

Last, the authors emphasize that the Eisenhower Memorial Commission has been transparent in its conduct. Yet Kelley failed to disclose that he is the father of the commission’s public relations agent, Chris Cimko. Cimko was a paid consultant for the commission long before Kelley joined its advisory board — and long before he signed on to this letter.

Justin Shubow is president of the National Civic Art Society.