The Eisenhower enigma

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted March 27, 2000

When Robert A. Taft stepped aside (more's the pity) in 1952 and allowed Dwight David Eisenhower to claim the GOP presidential nomination unchallenged, it was only on Eisenhower's personal promise, man-to-man, that Eisenhower would keep GOP platform promises (dating back to '36) to roll back the Roosevelt welfare state, and especially that he would trim back the harmful misallocation of resources to the massive peacetime military-industrial complex.

Eisenhower broke those promises with a sneer. Though no one would have taken the general for a member of the Psychic Friends Network, he did have sufficient military experience -- with an emphasis on production capacity and logistics -- to have applied at least some skepticism to the vastly overblown CIA estimates that Russia (by then a slave state held together with baling wire and patch-welds) was about to become more economically powerful than the U.S.

Yet Eisenhower remains a curiously ominous figure, passively stroking his putter (at best) while red-baiters like Nixon and Tailgunner Joe McCarthy savaged the First Amendment, and the Dulles brothers busied themselves overturning elected regimes and installing puppet tinpot dictators from Tehran to Managua.

This is not to minimize the evils of communism -- that regime of mass slavery and organized murder now stands hideously exposed, and with it every fellow traveler who ever grabbed for the fig leaves of "socialism," "progressivism," and "modest agrarian reform."

But who can yet measure the long-term results of turning this country, in the minds of an (initially) disbelieving world, from the Font of Freedom into The Cloaked Assassin in the Night? At the very least, I believe we can thank Ike for today's familiar and oppressive regime of airport metal detectors and strip-searches, fobbed off as "protection" against the hobgoblin of "international terrorism."

Has anyone bothered to simply ask these (rare) rascals why they hate us?

Most importantly, Eisenhower made no efforts (that I've been able to discern) to roll back the Roosevelt New Deal and implode some of its most counterproductive agencies, at precisely the time that a booming post-war economy and a public desire "to get back to normal" created the best historical opportunity to do so.

I blame Nixon and Ford and even Reagan for not doing more to roll back Washington City's burgeoning and extraconstitutional welfare/police state. But at least they had the excuse that "These agencies have been entrenched for 40 years. Their unionized employees now elect congressmen. Get real."

Eisenhower had no such excuse. Why should we assume Americans wouldn't have welcomed an announcement, shortly after the end of the Korean War, from Ike the calm and reassuring father-figure, that "The Great Depression is over. The Second World War is over. Even granting that our late, great leader President Roosevelt meant well and did the best he could in our time of trial, the voters have now rejected his faction and its collectivist, interventionist legacy. Just as we returned to normal in 1919, let us now systematically close down most of these dated Depression-era federal agencies of Messrs. Hoover and Roosevelt, with all their taxes and regulations so foreign to a free, peacetime America ..."

If Harding and Coolidge deserve credit for rolling back many of the dangerous and unconstitutional usurpations of the "Progressive" Wilson era (I recently asked historian Jeff Hummel, author of "Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men," who lists Eisenhower among the nation's 10 greatest presidents) why not hold Eisenhower responsible for failing to do the same in 1953-1956, when the best opportunity presented itself?

Last week, Mr. Hummel replied:

"Taft indeed would probably have been a much more libertarian president than Eisenhower (though the comparison of Jefferson out of office and in office reminds us that our expectations can always be disappointed). I give Eisenhower high marks nonetheless primarily for his foreign policy, which you know I weight heavily. He ended the Korean war, as he promised. Less well known is his impact on real military spending. ...

"There are other ways in which Eisenhower moved to ease Cold War tensions (such as Summit meetings), all of which were reversed under Kennedy. Eisenhower also refused to get the U.S. too involved in Vietnam at the time of the French defeat.

"Yes, with respect to domestic policy, Eisenhower didn't do enough to roll back the New Deal. But at least there were few new statist initiatives, as there had been under Truman and would be again under Kennedy-Johnson. (The two worst exceptions are the acts creating the Interstate highway system and federal aid to education, both passed as Cold War defense initiatives)," Mr. Hummel continued.

"Remember finally that these ratings are relative. Whom besides those I've put in the top 9 would you rank above Eisenhower? Your previous suggestion of Andrew Johnson is actually a strong one, because he did preside over significant post-Civil War demobilization. Yet he had almost no influence on that, while at the same time he encouraged the southern states to set up their heinous system of Black Codes for the freed slaves. Not only was that a gross violation of civil liberties in and of itself, but it also fostered the backlash of Republican Reconstruction."

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site

Current Issue

Archive Main | 2000

E-mail ESR



1996-2019, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.