Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dwight D. Eisenhower by Tom Wicker (2002)

I think Tom Wicker's final thought on Eisenhower - he "was a great man -- but not quite a great president" is also pretty much his take on the president the entire way through.  A beloved figure to millions of post World War II men and women, his presidency was filled with missed opportunities for greatness.  His presidency wasn't necessarily filled with blundering but squandering.  He could have used his immense popularity as a force for dynamic change when it came to peace with the Soviets or racial inequality or McCarthyism.  Interestingly, for a conservative president who did not use the bully pulpit but rarely domestically, Eisenhower and his administration were the first to use executive privilege, thus strengthening the executive branch.

He's a real grandfatherly figure in my mind, with his bridge playing, golf, salted peanuts and saltier language.  The added Kansas connection also makes him seem like a distant but relevant relative.  The 50s, with Eisenhower at the wheel, sort of loom over the 70s childhood, what with Happy Days and LaVerne and Shirley.  My grandparents were young parents in the 50s, with Ike the genial paterfamilias over a prosperous land. He won one war, untangled us from another, and kept the Cold War cold (at least officially).  

He's far to the left of most conservatives today, although likely he and Mitt Romney would have much to talk about.  

Khrushchev is the yin to Eisenhower's yang.  Or perhaps a better analogy would be Richard Nixon is the yin to Eisenhower's yang.  Eisenhower wasn't very good to Nixon, but it sounds like he wasn't all that nice to any subordinates, or anyone else for that matter.  I guess when you are a famous general who becomes president, you don't get into those positions by being squeamish about yourself.  It sounds like Eisenhower certainly thought he was the best and brightest in any gathering, and that may have been true a lot of the time.

Wicker injected himself into the end, when he spent a week with Eisenhower; there were also a few other personal asides and anecdotes as well.  I appreciated that in the book, more than some others in the series.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (The American Presidents, #34)Dwight D. Eisenhower by Tom Wicker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wicker's makes the statement that Ike was "a great man, but not quite a great president" at the end of the book, but this is pretty much his sentiment throughout.  He convincingly makes the argument that while Eisenhower wasn't necessarily blundering his way through the 1950s, he certainly was squandering.  A beloved, father figure of a president with much political will and capital, he could have done so much more but did not.  Wasted opportunities included peace with Russia, truly fighting McCarthyism, and taking the bull by the horns when it came to racial inequality.  He was also sort of shit to Richard Nixon.  Interestingly, this conservative president was the first to use executive privilege, so he clearly believed in the authority of the executive branch.  I imagine if Ike were alive and well today, he and Mitt Romney would have much to discuss. Wicker injects himself into the biography in several spots with anecdotes and personal asides, not too many, but enough to give this a personal touch.

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