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Why We Still Like Ike

Published: October 16, 2010

Seven years after leaving the White House, Dwight D. Eisenhower was voted the most admired person in America. Normally the winner of this annual Gallup poll was the sitting president, but in 1968 Lyndon Johnson had become too unpopular because of his Vietnam policy.

Still, it’s remarkable that, of all the notable Americans alive that year, the choice fell to a 78-year old ex-president. Even in retirement, with poor health restricting his public appearances, he was still highly regarded by Americans.

He probably never lost the admiration he earned as Supreme Commander of the Allied armies in World War II. No doubt his decision to run for president as a Republican instead of Democrat cost him some supporters. But while he was the leader of his party, he never became a political president; he would always promote the national good before party interests.

He kept the Republicans’ promise to reduce taxes, balance budgets, and decrease government control over the economy. But he also increased the minimum wage, expanded Social Security, ordered 1,000 U.S. soldiers to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce integration, and launched a massive public-spending project: $25 billion to build 40,000 miles of superhighway across the country. (The original 12-year project eventually lengthened to 35 years, and the price rose to $114 billion, and we still think it was a bargain.)

For a time, Eisenhower seemed to antagonize conservative Republicans more than his Democractic opponents, especially when he opposed the grandstanding red-baiter, Senator Joe McCarthy. Yet Eisenhower was an implacable enemy of communist imperialism. He never used accusations and threats, but applied steady pressure against Russia through diplomacy, foreign aid, and occasional military intervention. And when a U.S. spy plane was shot down over Russia, Eisenhower took personal responsibility.

He left office in 1961, ready to enjoy the pleasures of private life. In March of that year, he wrote about the life he saw before him in “Now That I Am A Private Citizen.”

On January twentieth I ended, with mixed feelings of satisfaction and regret, an almost complete half century of public service… the first four years were spent as a cadet in West Point, some thirty-seven as an officer of the Army, and the final eight as commander in chief of the armed forces and President of the United States…

From December, 1941, until the completion of my two terms in the Presidency, there have been few periods in which I have not been confronted with important public problems, for the solution of which I have borne some decree of responsibility.

But now, having left the White House, Mamie and I have become a part of America’s private citizenry. We have no governmental responsibilities, no duties except those belonging to every other individual in this republic. We had often, through the years, looked forward eagerly to this kind of existence…

Adjustments, big and little, began soon after I left the platform last Inauguration Day. I have now learned, once more, how to dial a telephone and how to drive a modern automobile, something I have not done for nearly twenty years…

Ike knew he would miss the daily news briefings he enjoyed as a president. No longer could he simply pick up a phone and call in advisors and experts to inform him breaking news stories. But this, he realized, was how Americans lived. They pieced together news stories. They discussed and debated among themselves. They worked hard to keep informed.

President Eisenhower illustrations by Norman Rockwell

"What a mobile face he has! He registered grave contemplation when told he should be an artist's model, then cracked it up into a grin."—Norman Rockwell

I believe that every good citizen owes it to himself and his country to formulate his conclusions on vital national issues as carefully as if he were actually sitting in the President’s chair. He will not find this easy. There is no magic formula for reaching satisfactory decisions; certainly none that would be acceptable to every thoughtful person.

I here set down without explanation or argument, and in terms of basic tenet, the highlights of my political beliefs. These are not original; some are hoary with age. But, among others, they include:

• We live in a society founded upon a deeply felt religious faith dedicated to the maintenance of human liberty and dignity, of the nation’s security, and of public order.

• Only in a world of peace with Justice can the peace and prosperity of any nation be assured.

• Lincoln’s description of the purpose and function of government is still valid. He said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”

• To insure the nation’s security and progress requires a balanced strength— spiritual, economic, military. To neglect any of these necessarily weakens all.

• An intelligent approach to every political question, domestic or foreign, must seek the enlightened self-interest of this nation.

• A free, competitive economy is essential to the existence of maximum human liberty.

• Maintenance of a sound, stable currency is essential to the growth of a free, competitive economy.

• Deficit spending by the Federal Government is justified only in emergencies of the gravest kind. The inevitable effect is to place an increasing and stifling burden upon the economy and to rob the future of its legitimate heritage.

• The promotion of the overall national good must always take precedence over any attempt of a special group to advantage itself.

• The need for balance in governmental programs is always present—a balance between current pressures and future good: between individual liberty and the meeting of nationwide requirements by government; between creature comforts provided by the state and the maintenance of a national creative capacity depending upon individual initiative, self-confidence and self-dependence; in sum, a balance that repudiates extremes in vast human affairs and seeks practical solutions so as to mobilize the energies of the vast majority.

• Added to these are certain precepts, such as:

—assemble all the facts on a problem, and it often solves itself;

—all generalities are false, including this one;

—make no mistakes in a hurry, but any decision is better than none;

— finally, and probably the most important, always take your job seriously, never yourself.

For me, they spell sound, balanced and progressive government.

These points were more than just nice ideas to Dwight Eisenhower. They were principles by which he lived. Which is why historians may argue Ike’s decision, but few argue his integrity.

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  • Robert Anderson

    “That old man left me with all the problems” – JFK

    Strikes against IKE:

    1/ He sanctioned the assassination of democratically elected foreign leaders because their policies went against the interests of multi-national corporations. These actions – akin to killing off any budding FDRs of African and Middle East nations, leaving them basket cases. RE: Iranian 1953 BP inspired coup, would come back to haunt Americans in 1979, with them wondering, “why us”.

    2/ He did nothing to stop the huge build-up of the Military-Industrial-Political-Media nexus, except warn about it to the American people and leave it to his successors.

    3/ He authorised he U2 flight at a time when he and Krushev had a rare opportunity to put the Cold War to rest and the huge expenditures it entailed.

    4/ He proclaimed liberty and yet did nothing whatsoever on Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and economic mobility and opportunity.

    5/ He tailored Richard Nixon as successor….

    6/ Eisenhower also refused to speak out against Joe McCarthy, even adjusting his praise for General Marshall, until the were out of the Senator’s state. He preferred to try to sabotage the McCarthy’s crusade behind closed doors without taking a stand as President. It would on Ed Murrow to deal with it.

    7/ “In 1950 Dwight D. Eisenhower had purchased a small farm for $24,000. According to Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson (The Case Against Congress), several oil millionaires, including W. Alton Jones, B. B. Byers and George E. Allen, began acquiring neighbouring land for Eisenhower. Jonathan Kwitny (Endless Enemies) has argued that over the next few years Eisenhower’s land became worth over $1 million: “Most of the difference represented the gifts of Texas oil executives connected to Rockefeller oil interests. The oilmen acquired surrounding land for Eisenhower under dummy names, filled it with livestock and big, modern barns, paid for extensive renovations to the Eisenhower house, and even wrote out checks to pay the hired help.”

    ……In 1961 Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson began reporting on Eisenhower taking money from the oil industry. Eisenhower did not take legal action against the journalists and the story did not receive very much publicity. In 1968 Pearson and Anderson returned to the topic in their book, The Case Against Congress (1968). “On January 19, 1961, one day before he left the White House, Eisenhower signed a procedural instruction on the importation of residual oil that required all importers to move over and sacrifice 15 percent of their quotas to newcomers who wanted a share of the action. One of the major beneficiaries of this last-minute executive order happened to be Cities Service, which had had no residual quota till that time but which under Ike’s new order was allotted about 3,000 barrels a day. The chief executive of Cities Service was W. Alton Jones, one of the three faithful contributors to the upkeep of the Eisenhower farm.”

    ….The authors went on to claim that hree months later, W. Alton Jones was flying to Palm Springs to visit Eisenhower when his plane crashed: “Jones was killed. In his briefcase was found $61,000 in cash and travelers’ checks. No explanation was ever offered – in fact none was ever asked for by the complacent American press – as to why the head of one of the leading oil companies of America was flying to see the ex-President of the United States with $61,000 in his briefcase.”
    ” – Spartacus website.

    8/ ” In 1956 there was an attempt to end all federal price control over natural gas. Sam Rayburn played an important role in getting it through the House of Representatives. This is not surprising as according to John Connally, he alone had been responsible for a million and a half dollars of lobbying.

    Paul Douglas and William Langer led the fight against the bill. Their campaigned was helped by a speech by Francis Case of South Dakota. Up until this time Case had been a supporter of the bill. However, he announced that he had been offered a $25,000 bribe by the Superior Oil Company to guarantee his vote. As a man of principal, he thought he should announce this fact to the Senate.

    Lyndon B. Johnson responded by claiming that Case had himself come under pressure to make this statement by people who wanted to retain federal price controls. Johnson argued: “In all my twenty-five years in Washington I have never seen a campaign of intimidation equal to the campaign put on by the opponents of this bill.” Johnson pushed on with the bill and it was eventually passed by 53 votes to 38. However, three days later, Dwight D. Eisenhower, vetoed the bill on grounds of immoral lobbying. Eisenhower confided in his diary that this had been “the most flagrant kind of lobbying that has been brought to my attention”. He added that there was a “great stench around the passing of this bill” and the people involved were “so arrogant and so much in defiance of acceptable standards of propriety as to risk creating doubt among the American people concerning the integrity of governmental processes”.

    The decision by President Eisenhower to veto this bill angered the oil industry. Once again Sid Richardson and Clint Murchison began negotiations with Eisenhower. In June, 1957, Eisenhower agreed to appoint their man, Robert B. Anderson, as his Secretary of the Treasury. According to Robert Sherrill in his book, The Accidental President: “A few weeks later Anderson was appointed to a cabinet committee to “study” the oil import situation; out of this study came the present-day program which benefits the major oil companies, the international oil giants primarily, by about one billion dollars a year.” ” – Spartacus

    But darn it, that smile, those good natured eyes, that uncle baldness….I still like Ike!

  • TonyP

    Now that I have read this article, it has inspired me wanting to know more about Dwight Eisenhower. Thank you for sharing this article. I will be doing some research on this great President.

  • Ima Ryma

    With Eisenhower, golf became
    A pastime in the public eye.
    It was the presidential game
    Ike played to pass his two terms by.
    Secret Service caddied for him,
    Machine guns mixed among the clubs.
    When Ike’s ball took an errant swim,
    News reporters would dive like subs.
    When the President hit the links,
    He would mix politics with fun.
    Some serious and some high jinx
    Would make the round before ’twas done.

    Often away from the West Wing,
    President Ike did like to swing.

  • Bob Silvers

    I love this quote from the story above:
    “I believe that every good citizen owes it to himself and his country to formulate his conclusions on vital national issues as carefully as if he were actually sitting in the President’s chair. He will not find this easy. There is no magic formula for reaching satisfactory decisions; certainly none that would be acceptable to every thoughtful person.” It behooves us all to think seriously about this as we go to the polls in November.