I ran across this interesting essay about the Eisenhower years.The author does get it right, Ike succeeded because of calmness in leadership and crisis that was forged in WW1 and WW2. I would even argue that giving the command to go ahead with D-Day changed his brain chemistry. THE ENTIRE WORLD hanged in the balance…ALL OF IT. I dare say not since battles of Salamis and Plataea (1) has an order been that important. Not since Themistocles has the weight of civilization rested so squarely on one man’s shoulders. Ike certainly might have felt the weight of the ostracons that were cast toward Themistocles in his own time!
That single D-Day order and the responsibility that goes along with it tempered his decision process and risk assessment to a degree that we mere mortals can never hope to come close to understand. If anything, it made him more like Master Yoda than like Chuck Norris. Chuck takes no offense at this as they are both ancient Jedi Masters. Ike’s calmness and judgement in the face of chaos, danger, and the cacophony of the nattering classes is certainly something to be studied, sadly, I think America is too politicized for it to be applied for the time being.
That said, I can’t seem to find an Ike in the current batch of candidates; or, as the classic line from The Dubliner’s song ‘Molly Maguires’ :’ you’ll never see the like of (him) again’. The world is not on the verge of WW3. Two massive and undefeatable Armies are not standing toe to toe on a trip-line in Europe. Would Ike be needed now? Or is someone like him only needed once in a century or ten to bring wisdom to leadership for a brief time? Could he even get elected now?
Eisenhower’s Timeless Virtues
When Dwight Eisenhower was first mentioned as a possible candidate for president in 1948, House Speaker Sam Rayburn offered a pithy assessment: “Good man but wrong business.” Today it’s clear that few of the White House’s occupants have been more right for the job.
Eisenhower was the last president born in the 19th century — 125 years ago this week. He governed during the 1950s, a decade that now seems hopelessly anachronistic. But our experience since then illuminates virtues he had that have grown more valuable as they have become rarer.
In office, he was disparaged on both the left and the right. Conservative pundit William F. Buckley said Ike was “undaunted by principle, unchained by any coherent ideas as to the nature of man and society.” To Democrats, he was the antithesis of Adlai Stevenson, whom they regarded as “the voice of a reasonable, civilized, elevated America,” in the words of liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger.
What looked like defects then look better now. He ended one war, in Korea, and began no new ones. He balanced the federal budget three times and reduced the federal debt as a share of gross domestic product. He cut spending in inflation-adjusted dollars. He steered his party away from McCarthyism.
Inspiring speeches were not his thing. His supporters said “I like Ike,” not “I revere Ike.” Unlike Theodore Roosevelt, he resisted using the presidency as a “bully pulpit.” He lacked the grand ambitions of Franklin Roosevelt.
Critics who saw him as a do-nothing despaired at his popularity with the American people. Richard Strout wrote in The New Republic, “The less he does the more they love him.” A public with fresh memories of the Great Depression and World War II wanted tranquility, not transformation.
Eisenhower wasn’t averse to action when it was required. But he showed a keen appreciation of limits — the limits of military power, the federal government’s competence and the role of the president.
He had a sense of perspective rooted in the perils he had overcome as supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II. When he traveled to give the commencement address in 1954 at Penn State University, where his brother was president, downpours forced the huge event indoors. Milton apologized, but Ike smiled and said he hadn’t worried about rain since it threatened to impede the Normandy invasion.
He would not be spooked into rash decisions. When France was losing a war in Vietnam, he declined to send U.S. forces to help an ally — and he quashed a proposal by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to use nuclear weapons. “You boys must be crazy,” was his reply.
When the Soviets sent troops to crush an uprising in Hungary in 1956, some conservatives wanted action to roll back the communist empire. Eisenhower sent a letter asking the Soviets to withdraw. They didn’t.
While championing NATO as a bulwark against Moscow, he pushed for the rearmament of West Germany to reduce the American load. He warned against excessive arms spending promoted by the “military-industrial complex.”
On the occasions that he took regrettable steps abroad, he at least minimized risks to Americans. After unfriendly governments gained power in Iran and Guatemala, he used covert action by the CIA, not military invasions, to overthrow them.
No one would argue that Eisenhower, who advised blacks to practice “patience and forbearance,” did enough for racial equality. But he ended segregation in Veterans Administration hospitals and in schools on military bases. He pushed through the first civil rights act since Reconstruction.
When the governor of Arkansas defied a court order to admit blacks to a public school in Little Rock, Ike sent the 101st Airborne Division to enforce it — provoking opposition from, among others, Sen. John F. Kennedy.
In 1956, Eisenhower won 39 percent of the black vote, the most any Republican had achieved since 1932. Eight years later, Republican nominee Barry Goldwater got just 6 percent of the black vote. In 2012, Mitt Romney got less. That is just one measure of how today’s Republican Party would be unrecognizable to Eisenhower.
He was one of our best presidents because of his seasoned judgment and steady calm during a period more turbulent than we often remember. Too bad that among the people now vying to win the presidency, in either party, there is no one like Ike.
(1) For more detail, please see: Herodotus (c.484 – 425 BC), The Histories, books VII and VIII in particular.