Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Do You Like Ike?

 

dwight-eisenhowerWith the unexpected direction this election cycle has taken, I’ve found myself repeatedly asking “What kind of president do the American public/Republican primary voters/Tea Partiers/Trump supporters really want?” Whenever we compare contemporary presidential candidates to historical figures, we tend to refer back to a short list of 20th century figures: Wilson, FDR, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton. But one name is conspicuously absent, a name associated with both the period of fastest growth and the most popular presidency of the 20th century: Dwight Eisenhower.

From the perspective of today’s politics, it’s hard to see how someone like Ike could even exist: A fairly non-partisan leader who was genuinely pragmatic; A supporter of the New Deal and public works projects who, nonetheless, didn’t want to cram the government down every throat; A staunch Cold Warrior who still warned against military excesses; And, of course, a man willing to use his executive power to deploy the US military into an matter of social politics. Indeed, the period of his presidency is constantly cited by members of all ideologies as the benchmark of American success and the American Dream. But if Eisenhower was such a success, why do we rarely ever mention him anymore, while we invoke Reagan’s name more frequently than the Lord’s at church?

I think part of the blame falls on Reagan himself. From an intellectual perspective, Reagan aligned himself closely and conspicuously with William F. Buckley and National Review, which — I have been told — was created during the 1950s partly as a counter-reaction to Ike’s affinity for big government. But here’s the essay question: Was Reagan more like Goldwater or more like Eisenhower?

My strong sense is that Reagan talked like Goldwater but acted much more like Eisenhower in many respects (at least, on issues where the two latter figures differed). And I think this paradox has carried forth into modern-day conservatism. For example, the Tea Party’s stated goals were largely of a libertarianish, Goldwater nature, but many self-described Tea Partiers are now supporting Trump, who is most certaintly not cut from Goldwater’s cloth.

So, while the talking classes on the Right have enjoyed slandering Eisenhower for decades, I wonder whether the common man has remained closer to Eisenhower in their personal political preferences.

Is it possible that a large fraction of the Republican base has been rallying behind Goldwater-style slogans for years, but has actually been pining for an Eisenhower-type figure? That might explain why so many on the Right, and in the working class, feel so disenchanted by the intellectual wing of conservatism, and are rallying behind Trump. And might an Eisenhower-like figure be precisely the type of president the disaffected working class has been pining for: Not a dictator-like strongman, not a let’s-double-the-size-of-government liberal, not a libertarian-style conservative, not a fire-breathing xenophobe, but a moderate, centrist, semi-strong man who puts country and results first?

Follow-up question: Would that type of president even be possible today, or at any time in American history except after WWII?

There are 55 comments.

  1. Hoyacon Member

    “I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.”

    –Dwight D. Eisenhower (via Stephen Ambrose’s bio)

    • #1
    • April 28, 2016, at 4:05 PM PST
    • Like
  2. Mendel Member
    Mendel Post author

    And to answer my own titular question: I’m not sure what I think about Ike’s presidency. (In large part because I am a poor student of real post-war US history – thanks liberal private school education!).

    From a recent biography, I have come to understand that there was much more savvy underpinning Eisenhower’s seemingly simple demeanor – a careful balancing of different interests on a case-by-case basis. I have great respect for anyone who can see three or four moves ahead but betrays none of that wisdom, especially when they are in a position of great power.

    On the other hand, like so much of the 1950s, I wonder if Ike spoiled us somewhat – setting expectations of what America could be that were more based on a happy coincidence of history than any realistically sustainable situation.

    Nonetheless, given the true turmoil on the world scene, I think his stabilizing presence at the outset of the Cold War has to outweigh any “sins” of his domestic policy.

    • #2
    • April 28, 2016, at 4:05 PM PST
    • Like
  3. Hoyacon Member

    MendelNonetheless, given the true turmoil on the world scene, I think his stabilizing presence at the outset of the Cold War has to outweigh any “sins” of his domestic policy.

    I’d go along with this, but only because of the true seriousness of the Cold War threat–and not because his domestic outlook (see the quote above) was essentially benign. He served less than a generation after the New Deal began. Was it set in stone then as it appears to be now? And what did we get–the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

    • #3
    • April 28, 2016, at 4:12 PM PST
    • Like
  4. Mark Wilson Member

    Mendel: a moderate, centrist, semi-strong man who puts country and results first?

    I’m confused by this. Do you think this describes Trump? Or that the Tea Partiers you mentioned think it describes Trump? Or something else?

    • #4
    • April 28, 2016, at 4:19 PM PST
    • Like
  5. Profile Photo Member

    Hoyacon:“I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.”

    –Dwight D. Eisenhower (via Stephen Ambrose’s bio)

    Any further questions, Mendel? I’ve been saying on this site for sometime that Eisenhower most certainly did not fit the orthodoxy of 1952’s GOP. Much like Trump does not fit today’s GOP orthodoxy.

    • #5
    • April 28, 2016, at 4:23 PM PST
    • Like
  6. Mendel Member
    Mendel Post author

    Mark Wilson:

    Mendel: a moderate, centrist, semi-strong man who puts country and results first?

    I’m confused by this. Do you think this describes Trump? Or that the Tea Partiers you mentioned think it describes Trump? Or something else?

    I don’t think it describes Trump, but I wonder if it describes the ideal president for a number of Trump supporters – or for that matter, a great deal of the non-political American public at large.

    • #6
    • April 28, 2016, at 4:33 PM PST
    • Like
  7. Mendel Member
    Mendel Post author

    Brad2971:

    Hoyacon:“I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.”

    –Dwight D. Eisenhower (via Stephen Ambrose’s bio)

    Any further questions, Mendel?

    Yes. My question is: would a good chunk of today’s Republican voters prefer a “progressive” like Eisenhower to a candidate trying to channel Goldwater?

    After all, even though he called himself a progressive, Eisenhower was much more restrained than any of our modern day progressives. He expanded government in ways the working class approved of.

    The message I’m hearing from a lot of Trump supporters is that they don’t like modern-day progressives, but they are sick of the libertarian-inspired austerity hailed by conservatives as well. They don’t want bigger government, but they want government give them a hand up. That sounds a lot like Eisenhower-style Republicanism to my ears.

    • #7
    • April 28, 2016, at 4:49 PM PST
    • Like
  8. Salvatore Padula Inactive

    My ideal is Mitch Daniels: someone who speaks like Eisenhower and governed like Goldwater.

    • #8
    • April 28, 2016, at 4:53 PM PST
    • Like
  9. Hoyacon Member

    Mendel:

    They don’t want bigger government, but they want government give them a hand up.

    And don’t recognize the essentially contradictory nature of that? Is it more that “we want government action in matters important to us, but not in matters important to the other guy”?

    • #9
    • April 28, 2016, at 5:01 PM PST
    • Like
  10. Mark Wilson Member

    Mendel: After all, even though he called himself a progressive, Eisenhower was much more restrained than any of our modern day progressives.

    I think such a statement would apply to most “progressives” in history. By the definition of the word, each successive generation of that type of thinker moves further and further along whatever direction they are trying to “progress”.

    • #10
    • April 28, 2016, at 5:04 PM PST
    • Like
  11. Mark Wilson Member

    Mendel:

    Mendel: a moderate, centrist, semi-strong man who puts country and results first?

    I don’t think it describes Trump, but I wonder if it describes the ideal president for a number of Trump supporters – or for that matter, a great deal of the non-political American public at large.

    That is a generic description of good leadership in most contexts. Not dogmatic, willing to compromise, prioritizes the interests of the entity they are leading over personal ambition, and emphasizes results.

    • #11
    • April 28, 2016, at 5:09 PM PST
    • Like
  12. Mendel Member
    Mendel Post author

    Hoyacon:

    Mendel:

    They don’t want bigger government, but they want government give them a hand up.

    And don’t recognize the essentially contradictory nature of that? Is it more that “we want government action in matters important to us, but not in matters important to the other guy”?

    Yes, I don’t think most voters see that contradiction.

    I also don’t think most voters see a contradiction in “I’m not for big government, I’m for right-size government” or “I’m for government that works”.

    And I think that explains a good chunk of Trump’s support. There are apparently a sizeable number of right-leaning voters who are sick of hearing about conservatives railing on about constantly shrinking government and lowering taxes. But they’re still not full-blown progressives; they’re somewhere in between.

    And I think Eisenhower appealed greatly precisely to that type of voter.

    • #12
    • April 28, 2016, at 5:13 PM PST
    • Like
  13. Hoyacon Member

    Mendel:

    And I think Eisenhower appealed greatly precisely to that type of voter.

    Perhaps, but during Ike’s era, government had not spiraled so far out of control. In other words, his voters were not looking at what Trump’s voters are looking at today in terms of excessive government largesse. The case for supporting that is harder today.

    I recall my father, who served under MacArthur, talking about Ike. I got the impression that he supported Ike because the alternative was Adlai. I wonder how many others fit that description.

    • #13
    • April 28, 2016, at 5:38 PM PST
    • Like
  14. Mendel Member
    Mendel Post author

    Mark Wilson:

    Mendel:

    That is a generic description of good leadership in most contexts. Not dogmatic, willing to compromise, prioritizes the interests of the entity they are leading over personal ambition, and emphasizes results.

    Yes, but our presidential nomination process has a way of keeping people with these traits from office – which is perhaps why we have such a lack of good leadership.

    I think part of the issue is the ideology-pragmatism spectrum. Our primary system forces candidates to run an ideological gauntlet just to get nominated, which tends to strain out candidates with a more pragmatic approach.

    In my opinion, Trump is much more of a pragmatist than an we’ve had in a while – “Make America Great Again” is not an ideology, and aside from a few key issues his plan for everything seems to be “make it work”. And I’m wondering if there might be a pent-up demand for pragmatism on the right which explains a large part of his popularity.

    And to bring it full circle, Eisenhower seems to me to be the last great pragmatist – and he was also the most popular president of the post-war period.

    • #14
    • April 28, 2016, at 6:04 PM PST
    • Like
  15. TKC1101 Inactive

    Eisenhower was saddled with the job of running the worlds superpower in an age of nuclear weapons. It was not a time for small government solutions. Missile programs, Strategic Air Command, Nuclear Navy, the Interstate Highway system, a breakdown of the colonial order in Asia, Africa, War in Korea, national vaccinations for salk and sabin polio vaccines, the rise of the Soviet threat, China going communist. All that and Elvis.

    Just play the Billy Joel song and try and figure how you would have handed all that to the states.

    • #15
    • April 28, 2016, at 7:43 PM PST
    • Like
  16. Marlowe Inactive

    Eisenhower and Reagan actually meet and talked. Lee Edwards talks about it in Reagan A Political Biography which was written in 1967. Ike and Ronnie got along very well.

    Chapter 13 of that book has a couple of pages about Eisenhower and Reagan meeting, when Reagan ran for Governor of California. It was Eisenhower who wanted the meeting. Eisenhower’s advice? According to the old General himself it was:

    “I just told him, to start hitting, keep hitting and when he gets tired hit harder.”

    Eisenhower’s endorsement helped Reagan fight the “John Birch Society” label, much to Pat Brown’s dismay, because Robert Welch famously claimed Eisenhower was a secret communist agent.

    • #16
    • April 28, 2016, at 8:30 PM PST
    • Like
  17. TKC1101 Inactive

    Mendel:In my opinion, Trump is much more of a pragmatist than an we’ve had in a while – “Make America Great Again” is not an ideology, and aside from a few key issues his plan for everything seems to be “make it work”. And I’m wondering if there might be a pent-up demand for pragmatism on the right which explains a large part of his popularity.

    And to bring it full circle, Eisenhower seems to me to be the last great pragmatist – and he was also the most popular president of the post-war period

    You are absolutely correct. Ideology is but a tool to solve problems. When it becomes a religion, you lose elections. The pent up demand is also not restricted to the right. Democrats can decide they want a pragmatist also. Ike’s opponent was nicknamed the “egghead’ , indicating an out of touch intellectual. Adlai Stevenson (the egghead) was asked by a reporter “Mr Stevenson, all thinking people are voting for you” to which he responded “Yes, but I need a majority”

    He lost. Imagine, a sleazy senator from Illinois losing to the commander of the greatest military coalition in history with a highly successful outcome, who had to herd Montgomery, Patton and DeGaulle into victory. The nerve of those voters.

    • #17
    • April 28, 2016, at 8:57 PM PST
    • Like
  18. Aaron Miller Member

    Isn’t much of Eisenhower’s popularity due to his military leadership during WW2? Might that have overshadowed his political philosophies or policy preferences?

    Americans were probably desperate for stability and, yes, government assistance after the hard years of war and rationing. But my knowledge of politics then is shallow.

    • #18
    • April 28, 2016, at 9:32 PM PST
    • Like
  19. Marlowe Inactive

    It should be remembered that Reagan was a member of the “new right”, really the most famous one with the possible exception of Buckley or Goldwater. When Reagan ran for Governor with Eisenhower’s endorsement, he did so under the promise of creating a “Creative Society”. Which was a government based away from federalist control, with little state interference in the lives of the people, well shrinking the states power and increasing the importance of the private sector, and local community organizations. Reagan got Eisenhower to agree with that.

    I think people are underestimating how conservative Eisenhower got as he aged. When Goldwater made his “Extremism in defense of Liberty is no vice, and moderation in the defense of justice is no virtue” line Eisenhower had no problem with it, because he and his troops landing on D-day to stop Hitler was indeed and “extreme” action. During the 1964 election Eisenhower would respond to Republicans who wanted him to speak out against Goldwater with this message:

    “The Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, is a gentleman of much experience, and is devoted to ideals he and I have in common. He is more emphatic that I have been in wishing to restore some Republican traditions, but none of these would damage any goal you and I share.”

    What problems Eisenhower had with Goldwater was mostly about tone then anything else. Which is likely why he hit it off with Reagan so much, Reagan was Goldwater with positive personality.

    • #19
    • April 28, 2016, at 9:35 PM PST
    • Like
  20. TKC1101 Inactive

    Also Goldwater was a serving officer in WW2 and a B-52 pilot in the AF Reserve. He achieved Brigadier General. Eisenhower respected his rank and service.

    Reagan only made it to Captain, but he enlisted as a private in 1937.

    • #20
    • April 28, 2016, at 11:37 PM PST
    • Like
  21. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Mendel:For example, the Tea Party’s stated goals were largely of a libertarianish, Goldwater nature, but many self-described Tea Partiers are now supporting Trump, who is most certaintly not cut from Goldwater’s cloth.

    […]

    Is it possible that a large fraction of the Republican base has been rallying behind Goldwater-style slogans for years, but has actually been pining for an Eisenhower-type figure? That might explain why so many on the Right, and in the working class, feel so disenchanted by the intellectual wing of conservatism, and are rallying behind Trump

    This likely deserves its own post — heck, it’s own book — but I’m increasingly convinced that the Tea Party was made up of two movements that thought they were one. On the one hand, there was one that really was laser-focused on fiscal issues and Constitutionalism; the other was more generally upset by Obama’s election and the failure of the Right.

    My sense is that the marriage between the two of them fell apart in November 2012; Trump’s all but buried it, now.

    • #21
    • April 29, 2016, at 5:02 AM PST
    • Like
  22. I Walton Member

    We’re calling constitutional conservatives radical and ideological and Democrat and Republican establishments pragmatists and status quo parties and that is fair enough as far as it goes, but we’ve accumulated a century of encrusted and harmful symbiotic relationships between the regulatory state, powerful private interests and the political establishments. The default position is growth of the state and stagnation of the economy and culture and the death of upward mobility. It is deeply corrupt and it is ending the Republic. This can’t be fixed with business as usual administrators but calls for systematic attempts to return to the rule of law under the constitution and radical efforts to open up to real competition sectors such as the educational establishment. This effort by definition means fighting against entrenched interests and there will be friction and bitterness; this is why Cruz is hated so much by the entrenched interests on the Hill. They believe he means what he says.

    • #22
    • April 29, 2016, at 5:31 AM PST
    • Like
  23. donald todd Inactive

    It was Ike’s good fortune to win the presidency at a time when western Europe and Japan were being rebuilt by American dollars. (We did not commit the folly Europe committed on Germany at the end of World War I.)

    Much of the European and Japanese industrial capacity had been destroyed during the war. By way of comparison we had a large, competent work force working in relatively modern industrial facilities making goods relatively economically at that time. Essentially we had no competition whether it was for brooms or automobiles. We could and did do it all.

    We also had a legacy of working farms and ranches providing us with all the food we could eat, so we weren’t on the edge of starvation; we were no longer cashing stamps for butter or milk which were no longer rationed. We no longer needed stamps to buy gasoline which was readily available.

    Americans had broad shoulders. We could pick up half the world, and it was malleable enough to be reshaped at least somewhat in our image. Ike was a reflection of all of that success and capitalized on his image as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He knew warfare, and he had worked with presidents, prime ministers, and other heads of state. His qualifications were apace with his popularity. He also ran in an era where the gulf between the Democrat and the Republican Parties is not as wide as it is now.

    Ike reflected us.

    • #23
    • April 29, 2016, at 5:36 AM PST
    • Like
  24. RyanFalcone Member

    It seems to me that he is the perfect leader to symbolize this nation’s turn from having a soul to having a bigger bank account and nicer things. Yeah, he did some fine things but do you ever think about the opportunity cost of it all or what the alternative, conservative ways of dealing with the conflict of that age might have been? He wasn’t bad but he was part of the problem we are in now.

    • #24
    • April 29, 2016, at 6:29 AM PST
    • Like
  25. Pugshot Member

    This is timely because I’ve been listening to (thanks Audible!) Evan Thomas’s semi-biography of Eisenhower, Ike’s Bluff. I already admired Eisenhower from his skillful management of the Supreme Allied Command in Europe during WWII, but I find myself admiring him even more as I find out more about his presidency. He was a much smarter man than most give him credit for, and he was, in general, a pretty good judge of other men. He was, indeed, a pragmatist – but in the 1950s that was a pretty good thing to be. We go wrong, I think, in trying to make a direct comparison between that time and the present, or in trying to compare him with Trump or any present-day big-government Republican or Democrat. And the conservative Republicans of the 1950s are certainly not comparable to the conservative Republicans of today! Ike is thought of as a big government president, but that seems to be based primarily on two things: (1) he did not attempt to disassemble the New Deal, and (2) he used government to begin construction of the interstate highway system. Because of his military experience, however, he was also an effective bulwark against expansion of the military. He recognized how the various services were interested in expanding their turf and, within the constraints imposed by the Cold War necessities of propping up Europe through NATO and opposing communist expansion in the Western Hemisphere, he was pretty good at managing to control the military. He got us out of the Korean War, resisted those in his administration that wanted him to give the French a blank check of support in Vietnam (and then resisted stepping in to replace them after Dien Bien Phu – instead supporting a negotiated settlement that divided the country), and avoided involving us in a war with China by reining in the Nationalists in Formosa (Taiwan) during the Quemoy/Matsu controversy. With respect to the Stephen Ambrose quote related above, two observations: (1) Ambrose is not always the most reliable historian, and (2) Ike generally told people what he wanted them to hear, not necessarily what he truly believed.

    All-in-all, considering what most Americans were like in the 1950s, I think donald todd summed him up pretty well: “Ike reflected us.”

    • #25
    • April 29, 2016, at 8:39 AM PST
    • Like
  26. Profile Photo Member

    TKC1101:

    And to bring it full circle, Eisenhower seems to me to be the last great pragmatist – and he was also the most popular president of the post-war period

    You are absolutely correct. Ideology is but a tool to solve problems. When it becomes a religion, you lose elections. The pent up demand is also not restricted to the right. Democrats can decide they want a pragmatist also. Ike’s opponent was nicknamed the “egghead’ , indicating an out of touch intellectual. Adlai Stevenson (the egghead) was asked by a reporter “Mr Stevenson, all thinking people are voting for you” to which he responded “Yes, but I need a majority”

    He lost. Imagine, a sleazy senator from Illinois losing to the commander of the greatest military coalition in history with a highly successful outcome, who had to herd Montgomery, Patton and DeGaulle into victory. The nerve of those voters.

    While I would not argue about Stevenson being “sleazy,” it really didn’t help him that his party had the White House for 20 years when he ran.

    • #26
    • April 29, 2016, at 8:43 AM PST
    • Like
  27. Profile Photo Member

    Mendel:

    Brad2971:

    Any further questions, Mendel?

    Yes. My question is: would a good chunk of today’s Republican voters prefer a “progressive” like Eisenhower to a candidate trying to channel Goldwater?

    After all, even though he called himself a progressive, Eisenhower was much more restrained than any of our modern day progressives. He expanded government in ways the working class approved of.

    The message I’m hearing from a lot of Trump supporters is that they don’t like modern-day progressives, but they are sick of the libertarian-inspired austerity hailed by conservatives as well. They don’t want bigger government, but they want government give them a hand up. That sounds a lot like Eisenhower-style Republicanism to my ears.

    If by “give them a hand-up” you mean help mitigate the bad effects of trade policy and mass immigration, then heck yes pragmatic conservatism is on the way back. In the form of one heck of a carnival barker of a salesman.

    Mainly, I just think a LOT of GOP voters have become overly sick and tired of conservatism as folks like Limbaugh, NRO, and Fox News have presented it. Especially since it’s led to at least the loss of the popular vote for president in 5 of the last 6 elections.

    Perfect situation for a Trump.

    • #27
    • April 29, 2016, at 8:53 AM PST
    • Like
  28. Z in MT Inactive

    Brad2971: Limbaugh, NRO, and Fox News

    One of these things is not like the others. Hardly anybody has heard of National Review, and the perspectives of National Review are quite different then Limbaugh or Fox News – at once more Libertarian and conservative Catholic. I doubt that people are tired of National Review.

    • #28
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:07 AM PST
    • Like
  29. Marlowe Inactive

    One thing to remember is the main reason Eisenhower choose to get in the race, is because he was afraid Robert Taft would break down NATO.

    • #29
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:26 AM PST
    • Like
  30. Mendel Member
    Mendel Post author

    TKC1101: Ideology is but a tool to solve problems. When it becomes a religion, you lose elections. The pent up demand is also not restricted to the right. Democrats can decide they want a pragmatist also.

    I mostly agree – I think both are necessary, but need to judiciously balanced and intertwined.

    But either way, I think there will always be a large group of voters in the middle of the country who value pragmatism more than ideology. This flies in the face of modern conventional wisdom which suggests there is no such thing as an “independent” voter, and that almost everybody is an ideologue at their core.

    And I think our primary system is ill-suited to meet this demand. Pragmatists are almost always hated by the ideological voters who dominate the early phases of our primaries, so candidates who would seem to be a decent balance between ideology and pragmatism end up being DoA.

    • #30
    • April 29, 2016, at 10:03 AM PST
    • Like