It is not only history and aesthetics that are travestied in this fiasco. The Gehry design was chosen in a closed competition, which itself suggests that the fix was in for Frank Gehry from the beginning. Having seen his design for a new wing of the Corcoran Gallery of Art go unrealized, Gehry and his acolytes at the General Services Administration now seem determined to get a Gehry into monumental Washington, even if, in the process, they distort history with another postmodernist confection that speaks to no one outside their small, gnostic sect. Yet if the National Capital Planning Commission gives a favorable review to the Gehry design in February, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission may well seek to break ground immediately in order to create a fait accompli.
Congress will have a lot on its plate in the first weeks of 2012. But it should move quickly to stop the current Eisenhower Memorial process and order an inquiry into precisely how and why a design that says nothing about the great achievements of the man being memorialized was approved. And when the answer becomes clear — that this was a closed, opaque process unbefitting a democracy intent on honoring one of those who helped save democracy in an hour of peril — Congress should order the present design scrapped in favor of an open process of design competition and selection, like those that produced the World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials. Moreover, Congress should ensure that that process is not dominated by those determined to impose a postmodernist architectural vocabulary, irrespective of its distortion of history, on monumental Washington. Meanwhile, Congress would do well to put a hold on the funding for the Eisenhower Commission that was hastily approved as part of an end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill.
The memory of Dwight David Eisenhower deserves better than the travesty that has, to date, steamrollered through the federal bureaucracy. So does the country Eisenhower served so well, and the city where he lived as both soldier and statesman.
— George Weigel is distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center and is an adviser to the National Civic Art Society. The Society’s comprehensive critique of the Gehry design for the Eisenhower Memorial and the closed competition that led to its being chosen is available at eisenhowermemorial.net.