Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first U.S. president I knew of (I was an infant during the Truman administration), and I liked him. He was Pennsylvania Dutch, like my father, and seemed to my youthful mind to be a proper President. Growing up in a household with one parent a Republican and the other a Democrat, I wound up with zero interest in politics per se until my collegiate years, when the events of the late 60s commanded my attention.
As a blogger, I've posted a smattering of information about him - most remarkably the fact that during his tenure as a conservative Republican, the top income tax rate was 91%, and most memorably his televised "farewell warning" to the nation.
I learned more about him yesterday from an article in The New Republic, which mused about why today's Republicans seldom mention him:
Conservatives had expected that Eisenhower, as the first Republican president since 1932, would repeal the New Deal; instead he augmented and expanded programs like Social Security, thereby giving them bipartisan legitimacy as well as added effectiveness. Conservatives had expected that the president would support Senator Joseph McCarthy’s crusade to tar all liberals as pro-Communist; instead he denied McCarthy the authority to subpoena federal witnesses and receive classified documents, thereby precipitating the red-baiter’s overreach and fall.Some day I should read a full biography of him; I'm open to suggestions as to which one to choose.
Eisenhower governed as a moderate Republican. While he failed to take bold action against Southern segregation as Democratic liberals and Republican progressives urged him to do, he helped to cool the overheated partisan rhetoric of the preceding two decades and built a middle-of-the-road consensus that marginalized extremists of left and right. He was well aware that his moderation earned him the implacable enmity of GOP conservatives. As he put it, “There is a certain reactionary fringe of the Republican Party that hates and despises everything for which I stand.” But this did not greatly bother him, since he also believed that “their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
The conservative movement’s tablet-keepers have long memories, so it’s unsurprising that Ike has remained a devil figure for the right. What may seem more surprising is that at a moment when Republicans are posing as stalwart defenders of a balanced federal budget, they dismiss the example of the most fiscally conservative president of the past eighty years. Eisenhower balanced the budget three times in his eight years in office, a feat that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush came close to achieving. Ike cut federal civilian employment by 274,000 and reduced the ratio of the national debt to GNP, though not the absolute level of debt. The economy bloomed under his watch, with high growth, low inflation, and low unemployment.
But Eisenhower’s economic success matters little to today’s Republicans given his deviations from conservative orthodoxy. Ike disdained partisanship, praised compromise and cooperation, and pitched his appeals to independent voters. He approved anti-recessionary stimulus spending, extended unemployment compensation, and raised the minimum wage. He pioneered federal aid to education and created the largest public-works program in history in the form of the interstate highway system. He levied gasoline taxes to pay for the highway construction, and believed that cutting income taxes when the federal government was running a deficit would be an act of gross fiscal irresponsibility. The Republican presidential candidates who are beating the drum to bomb Iran are in stark contrast with Eisenhower’s refusal to intervene in Vietnam. And conservative hawks find something vaguely pinko about Ike’s drive to restrain the pace of the arms race and his famous warning about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.”
In fairness to today’s Republicans, Eisenhower’s values—prudence, pragmatism, reasonableness, frugality, and respect for the past—find little resonance on either side of our present partisan divide, or in American culture as a whole.
There's more at The New Republic, via The Dish.