In these troubled economic times, perhaps many Americans of a certain age miss President Dwight Eisenhower, affectionately known as Ike, more than ever.
Eisenhower, a military hero of World War II, served as president throughout most of the 1950s, governing at a time of peace and prosperity for the United States. Eisenhower’s critics lampooned him as a genial old man who focused on golf and left the management of the country to subordinates. In a new book, “Eisenhower: The White House Years,” journalist Jim Newtown draws on recently unclassified documents to paint a different picture of Eisenhower.
Newton portrays Eisenhower as a shrewd pragmatist who sought the middle ground between political extremes to keep the country out of nuclear war and advance American progress.
“He was a good man, one of integrity and decency,” Newton tells readers. “But he was not always right. He was too enamored of covert action, and he did not fully comprehend the moral imperatives of civil rights, where his belief in measured progress, the middle way, impeded his sympathy for those who demanded their constitutional rights immediately.”
But in spite of that imperfect record, adds Newton, Eisenhower “registered the nation’s most significant progress toward racial equality since the end of the Civil War.”
In other areas of national life, writes Newton, the Republican Eisenhower eschewed rigid ideology in favor of practical results. Here, again, is Newton:
“Eisenhower was a conservative man, raised to believe in industry and thrift. He did not believe that government could or should substitute for individual initiative, and he adhered to Republican notions of private enterprise. He was, however, refreshingly unbound by partisanship. He won approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 with Democratic and Republican support; he championed the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Interstate Highway System even when his brother grumbled about his tolerance for socialism.”
We must wonder how Eisenhower’s moderate brand of conservatism would fare in the GOP today.
We can imagine the attack ads that would paint him as a liberal because he compromised with Democrats and cautioned restraint in the use of the nation’s nuclear armaments.
But to read Newton’s book is to be reminded that today’s Republicans and Democrats probably could get a lot more done if they were willing to seek common ground rather than conflict in confronting the nation’s challenges.
“Dwight Eisenhower left his nation freer, more prosperous, and more fair,” Newton concludes. “Peace was not given to him; he won it.”