Americans love to take polls. They rank everything from Hollywood scandals to insects, and they often reflect the state of mind of the American people at the time of the ranking. This propensity for opinion polls has been carried over to the equally American love of criticizing the government and the people in it, especially Presidents. One only has to turn on the television to watch spoofs about George W. Bush to get an idea of this. Presidential ranking was begun by historian Arthur Schlesinger whom in 1948 polled 55 scholars.
He took a second poll in 1962 in which 34th president Dwight D. Eisenhower placed 22nd, a little over year after his second term of president. What is interesting to note that when son Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. , following in his father’s footsteps took another poll in 1996, Eisenhower placed 10th. Prior to this 1996 poll, other polls showed a similar tendency to elevate Eisenhower in the presidential rankings, with 2000 C-SPAN Poll placing him at ninth place. (Watson and Berger) This paper will provide some insights into the possible reasons for these shifts in opinions in the case of Eisenhower from a historical perspective.
I. Brief background on Eisenhower Dwight David Eisenhower, popularly referred to as “Ike” was born in Texas in 1890, the 3rd of seven boys. He was brought up in Abilene Kansas and was a West Point graduate who became stationed in Texas as a second lieutenant where he met and married Mamie Geneva Doud. (“Dwight D. Eisenhower”) Ike was an excellent staff man, rapidly rising in the Army ranks under generals such as John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, and Walter Krueger.
His performance as supreme commander over the NATO forces in 1951 led to his nomination as Republic presidential candidate, with the slogan “I like Ike” leading him to the White House. (“Dwight D. Eisenhower”) A successful soldier and military leader, Ike nevertheless negotiated for peace whenever possible. The Cold War was escalating but he negotiated for better relations with the Soviet Union from a position of military strength, an effort undermined by the death of Stalin in 1953. In the same year, Ike signed a truce which rough armed peace in South Korea.
In further efforts to conciliate with the Soviets, Ike invited Nikita Khrushchev to the President’s Camp David retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains to discuss Khrushchev’s demands for Western allies to get out of Berlin. Kruschchev did agree to lift his ultimatum, which positive response was cut short in 1960 when the Russians shot down an American U-2 spy plane. (“Eisenhower: soldier of peace”) It led to public humiliation for Ike, but it emphasized his desire to maintain world peace. He developed his “atoms for peace” program which was designed to develop uranium for peaceful uses.
He also urged conservative military spending, pushing for enough military strength to ensure national security while monitoring potentially dangerous military spending policies. (“Dwight D. Eisenhower”) It was during his second term that he issue orders to desegregate schools, a significant landmark in the civil rights movement, which was also carried out in the Armed Forces. He declared that “There must be no second class citizens in this country. ” Ike was chronically ill, but he was a vigorous man and when he finally succumbed on March 28, 1969, he was almost 80 years old.
(“Dwight D. Eisenhower”) His popularity was such that he could have run for a third term if he wanted two and if the 22nd Amendment prevented him from doing so. (“Eisenhower: Soldier of Peace”) II. Criticisms Despite his popularity during his two terms, Ike was constantly being criticized by political analysts for his “middle-ground” stance and was characterized as a “caretaker” president who did not really get much done. (Watson and Berger) In fact, in the 1970s Ike’s presidency characterized as the Eisenhower doll: “You wind it up and it does nothing for eight years.
” With the myopia of near history, many believed that Ike concentrated on keeping the status quo in military, social and economic issues. Of particular damage was his handling of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was condemned for his extreme anti-communist views and what is termed a “witch hunt” for Soviet spies within the government. (Ansary) ““I am convinced that the way for me to defeat Senator McCarthy is to ignore him,” Eisenhower noted in a personal memo in April 1953. ” (“Eisenhower: soldier of peace”) He was seen uninvolved and ineffective in the day-to-day running of the country.
He often delegated such decisions to his aides and advisors and was widely considered to spend most of his days in pleasurable pursuits such as golf, social functions and vacations. Politically, he was aloof and he made no secret of the fact that he disliked politics and politicians, and made many decisions which made him politically vulnerable. He once said that the “only thing successful politicians had in common was that they married above themselves. ” (qtd. in Madonna and Young) The 1961 Time Magazine article “The Debits” enumerated some of the specific issues.
Ike was said to have been unable to implement a workable farm program, resulting in an annual $9 billion cost of price supports and food storage, from the $1. 5 billion at the end of Harry Truman’s term. The tax policies were also criticized because Ike showed no interest in reforming outdated, piecemeal tax laws, preferring to concentrate on balancing the federal budget and reducing debt. His failure to promote the rule of law in his foreign policy and practical politics that would make him politically viable was also attacked.
It is suggested that such criticisms stemmed from Ike’s belief that in his dual role as head of state (which unifies and symbolizes the nation) and head of government (political decision maker), the former should be prominent while the latter should be hidden, a governing style now referred to as the “hidden hand” presidency. (Madonna and Young) It also explained why in 1962, Ike ranked 22nd of 35 presidents despite his apparent popularity and military hero status. III. Discussion
The upward revision on Ike’s poll ranking may well be due to what is referred to as “hindsight. ” Many of his policies made little sense to his contemporaries and the public during his two terms. However, later events proved that Ike was a man who was more than he appeared to be, and that his policies had a sound basis. Ike was first and foremost a military man. He realized from his campaigns that military preparedness was crucial to a nation’s security, and took great pains to ensure that the state of military strength during his presidency was adequate.
However, he was also a staff man, so he was aware of the potential dangers associated with unbridled military spending and took steps to ensure that there was balance between necessity and spending. His knowledge of war would also account for his efforts to avoid it breaking out as much as possible. As a soldier and campaign strategist, Ike had to deal with the casualties and collateral damages of war, and sought “peace with justice” (“The Debits”).
He was unable to prevent the Cold War from escalating or the Cuban missile crisis that bore fruition in Kennedy’s term with such disastrous results, but he never stopped trying, an attitude which recent anti-war sentiment fully supports. Because he was a soldier, Ike probably loathed admitting physical weakness, but later accounts both from his personal memoirs and from other sources revealed that Ike suffered from several, severe health crises associated with gastrointestinal problems and heart disease.
It was little known at the time, but Ike’s health gave him a lot of trouble, and he was said to have suffered anywhere up to 7 cardiac episodes. However, because this was not widely known at the time, his recuperative periods were misinterpreted by his critics as part and parcel of his “caretaker” governing policy. In particular, his 12-day stay in the presidential retreat in Key West from December 28, 1955 to January 8, 1956 was illustrative of how circumstances could be grossly misleading. Far from being on a repairing lease, Ike’s visitors and schedule showed how hard we worked even when he was supposed to be resting.
(Madonna and Young; Watson and Berger) It was this as well as other documentary evidence that was later revealed which showed how much more deeply Ike’s “hidden hand” was in the various pies in political decision making and policy formulation, although his aim was to provide general policy guidelines than specific policies. Scholars now concede that Ike had a good grasp of most situations and made sound decisions that allowed him to keep his options open and yet enabled him to act decisively when necessary. (Madonna and Young)
It is well to consider as well that of the presidents three had great military reputations in actual war prior to ascending to the presidency and subsequently consistently ranked high in the polls. These were Washington, Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt. A fourth was Eisenhower, whose 1962 below average ranking was revised in later polls. This would seem to indicate that those who were great military prowess were likely to become good presidents when they are elected into office. While their styles of governing are widely divergent, they were all practical and sensible decision makers in times of crisis.
(Schlesinger) In Ike’s case, he chose to be relatively low profile in such decisions. John Dean in his 2001 article “Ranking presidents – utter nonsense or useful analysis? ” points out that polls such as the ones undertaken by the Schlesingers were without any consistent basis for the criteria used by the surveyed scholars. Even with efforts to benchmark the results, the results remain largely subjective and vague, making it difficult to provide comparisons within the polls as well as between polls. The fact that it was a survey of scholars it was by no means a reflection of the general public’s opinion of Ike’s presidency.
In fact, Ike was very popular when he left office and retained the admiration of the public as a man of integrity, strength and modesty. (“Dwight David Eisenhower”) However, in the case of Dwight Eisenhower, existing documents and later events do seem to provide a basis for his rise in the polls. It may well be that the 1962 Schlesinger Sr. poll and the 1996 Schlesinger Jr. poll is an accurate reflection of the political and social climate of the respective time period. IV. Conclusion It has been said that one can miss the forest for the trees; in retrospect, it seems clear now that Ike’s politically unpopular “centrist” image was deliberate.
It allowed him to move silently away from the limelight to make crucial policy and political decisions. Because he had projected himself as an ineffective president, he was able to put his policies forward without being targeted by his critics of being its author. Despite the criticisms, Ike retained his popularity, no doubt as a result of his war record, his subsequent pacifist attitude as president and his widely known dislike of political posturing. In retrospect, he was more effective for his “hidden hand” style of governing than was initially suspected, as evidenced by the 1996 poll undertaken by Schlesinger Jr.
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