A general rule of thumb: the more important a job is, the fewer words the job title will contain. For example, the title “Director” simply reads better than “Executive Director.” I was reminded of this fact earlier this week, as the title “Deputy Assistant Secretary” scrawled across the C-SPAN coverage. This generally holds true, but there are exceptions.
One such exception is Dwight D. Eisenhower. During World War II, the eventual President was charged with leading the Allied forces in Europe as “Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Force.” That title is a mouthful, but it was among the most significant roles in modern world history. Eisenhower famously oversaw Operation Overlord and D-Day. In preparation for the invasion, in case it went awry, Eisenhower prepared a brief note taking responsibility for failure. The note ended with this: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” Eisenhower had the weight of the free world on his shoulders, and he was ready to carry the burden.
Of course, Eisenhower was successful as a general and later as President. His tenure as our chief executive goes almost undiscussed in history class because of the lack of catastrophe or major event. According to C-SPAN’s 2021 survey of historians, Eisenhower ranks as America’s fifth best President in history. So he’s not on Mount Rushmore, but fifth isn’t so bad. I think his success was possible thanks to his experience leading the Allied forces. Entering his Presidency, Eisenhower’s legacy was already secure. He already had had a role that was more significant and meaningful than nearly any other in history. In contrast to World War II, the Presidency likely often felt like a walk in the park, at least sometimes.
Today, President Biden is clawing to push a massive agenda through Congress. With razor thin margins in both chambers, the odds look slim. For the second time in as many months, despite the President’s best efforts, Congress failed to even vote on either an infrastructure bill or reconciliation package. The President has lobbied for these legislative initiatives at every turn. Still, it looks increasingly unlikely to cross the finish line. (The infrastructure bill passed Friday.)
Headlines assert Biden has his legacy in mind as he pushes these legislative proposals. With the visions of a lifetime achievement in the form of a major legislative victory, the President may be reaching for what is simply not in reach. Possibly, he is pushing harder and harder for something that is unachievable because he feels he needs it to be viewed as a success.
This, I believe, is where Eisenhower and Biden possibly diverge from one another. Ike had already been given and achieved a great purpose. He did not have to further pursue or define his life or legacy. There was increased freedom to make decisions without the pressure to do everything perfectly. Biden, despite a lifetime of service, electoral victories, and legislative successes, may still feel he must do more to be great. I certainly don’t know what’s in Biden’s mind. Yet, observing the media’s portrayal of today’s legislative fights reminds me of a struggle I have observed in my life far too often.
The temptation to seek after worldly success and the praise of others is alluring. It is a temptation that is common to man. In our folly, we so often pursue “broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13). As a resident of Washington D.C., I have seen many, especially myself, aim for career success as a means of finding satisfaction. I far too often turn away from the living water, believing I must fill myself up. While I don’t know what is motivating our President today, if he is aiming for an impossible target so he can feel like a success, I empathize with him. Yet, I know through Christ, my perspective ought to be more like that of Eisenhower.
By virtue of the Great Commission and the call to act as Christ’s vehicles to bring the good news around the globe, Christians have been called to a great responsibility. There is no greater role that can be bestowed than to share the good news that brings everlasting life. Even further, Christ has freely given his Holy Spirit to those who believe, empowering each of us to be like the prophets. This is a truly divine duty. The job titles that the world has to offer merely cannot come close to being a messenger or a prophet of the Son of God.
“I like Ike,” but I think I can learn a lesson from him too. Eisenhower was able to look at the previous role he was gifted and the success he found with the full knowledge his identity was secure. Even more than Eisenhower, we ought to look at the role we’ve been given. We know that success and true eternal victory have been achieved through Christ. Rather than striving to fill ourselves through our daily vocations, there is an opportunity to freely serve with the knowledge that identity, success, and victory over the darkest of evils has already been found.
Will Derrick works on Capitol Hill.