David Eisenhower on the Military-Industrial Complex

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Recap from It's a Free Country.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, David Eisenhower, director of the Institute for Public Service at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed his afterword to The United States Constitution: What It Says, What It Means: A Hip Pocket Guide and his grandfather's famous "military-industrial complex" speech.

Eisenhower's prophetic speech

It's been over 50 years since President Dwight Eisenhower gave his famous speech warning against the dangers of the military-industrial complex in January of 1961. The President's grandson, David Eisenhower, recently penned an op-ed arguing that these words were prophetic at the time and remain significant half a century later.

While the real influence of the military-industrial complex may have waned since President Eisenhower's speech, David Eisenhower says his grandfather managed to identify a much larger problem that the Founding Fathers did not foresee, and which would only metastasize over the course of the 20th century: an interdependent country and economy full of "self-interested and self-perpetuating...corporate-public 'complexes.'"

When these "complexes" dictate American policy and affairs, it's both dangerous and demoralizing for the public.

I think it's possible democracy can become captive of interests and so on, and that it requires a great deal of vigilance and energy to maintain a vital self-governing system...The idea that democracy can be somehow hijacked, and people can be persuaded to withdraw from public affairs, this is the great lesson of the 20th century.

A new breed of 'complex'

Given that the defense budget has shrunk as a share of national output since President Eisenhower's day, David Eisenhower allows that his grandfather's words may apply less to military institutions than they do to other players with exorbitant influence in 2012.

It could well be not the military but the financial sector of this country, and I dont see either side talking about that either.