The Ike Blog (Jan. - March, 2012)
The Official Blog of Eisenhower National Historic Site
35 DOWN AND 22 TO GO
In 52, there were only 13 Republican primaries and 16 Democratic.
Back then voters didn't have much say in who the presidential candidates would be. In most states, delegates for the national conventions were chosen at state conventions whose delegates were selected at district conventions. It was the party bosses who appointed the delegates and dictated who they would vote for.
Even in those states in which voter ballot in a primary determined the delegates, the delegates weren't typically bound to vote for the candidate they were supposed to be supporting at the national convention.
Tennessee Senator, Estes Kefauver, known for his crusading against corruption and crime, won all but three of the Democratic primaries in 1952. But the Party disliked and distrusted him because his investigations into organized crime had linked the Mafia to big city Democrats. Consequently, Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois won the nomination despite his name not appearing on the ballot of any Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, Eisenhower won four of the Republican primaries including even the New Hampshire despite not yet having announced his candidacy. Ike's toughest opponent was Mr. Republican, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, who was the odds on favorite to take the nomination. Taft won six primaries.
The reality that the state party bosses would ultimately appoint the convention delegates was a major problem for Ike. Although most voters probably preferred Ike, most state Republican parties were controlled by Taft supporters. This would lead to a big ruckus at the Texas state convention.
The precinct and state conventions in Texas were usually friendly affairs with a foregone conclusion. But in 1952, a lot of new Republicans registered to vote for Ike. The Texas Republican Committee claimed these were actually Democratic voters trying to take over the GOP. Even though Eisenhower received most of the delegate votes at the state convention, the committee ignored the vote and selected 30 delegates for Taft and left only two for Ike. Ike supporters then set up their own rival convention and voted for their delegates. Fireworks erupted at the National Convention in Chicago when both sets of delegates showed up.
With most delegates uncommitted and unbound and candidates' fortunes waxing and waning in accordance to the whims of political bosses, national presidential conventions in the 50s could be rollicking, melodramatic spectacles. Nothing was preordained and anything could happen!
The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago would prove to be the impetus to change all that. Vice President Hubert Humphrey was selected by party bosses at that convention to be the nominee despite not having entered any of the primaries. This led to an intensification of the Chicago riots because the peace candidate, Eugene McCarthy, was passed over despite his primary victories and delegates. It wasn't long after that debacle that Senator George McGovern led a movement to remove power from the party bosses and put it in the hands of the voters. The Democratic party in the 70s enacted legislation in many states that called for the direct primaries of today where delegates are chosen by voter ballot and are committed to vote for a particular candidate.
Thus, chances are that this year's national conventions will be nowhere near as exciting and entertaining as those in 1952.
We'll take a look back at those wild conventions of '52 in future blog postings.
A DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT REPEATEDLY DISPARAGES A FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT AS RECORDED BY A NOTORIOUS LIBERAL IN HIS JOURNAL THAT I HAPPENED TO HAVE READ WHILE RECUPERATING FROM SURGERY
"It's just like Eisenhower. The worse I do, the more popular I get."
That's a quote from Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s Journals published back in 2007. I had a chance to read the Journals while recovering from my surgery over the past few weeks.
Schlesinger was a professor of history at Harvard and later a professor of humanities at the City University of New York. He is the author of a slew of works, two for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize: The Age of Jackson (1946) and A Thousand Days (1966), a memoir of the Kennedy administration.
Schlesinger served as a speech writer for Adlai Stevenson during his presidential campaigns in 1952 and 56, as special assistant and speech writer for President Kennedy, and went on to campaign for Robert Kennedy in 1968 and Edward Kennedy in 1980. He was a proudly notorious liberal and an outspoken critic of Richard Nixon and the Iraq War. He passed away in 2007.
Journals is a 800 page collection of Schlesinger's selected journal entries from the Stevenson presidential campaigns to the 2000 presidential election. It makes for a fast and fascinating read because Schlesinger seems to be smack in the middle of or at least in close proximity to many of the significant political developments that occurred during that time and offers up snatches of intimate conversation and revealing profiles of the characters involved.
The quotation beginning this entry is a remark made by JFK in the course of conversation, one of many referring to Eisenhower and dutifully recorded by Schlesinger. The Journals leave you with the impression that Kennedy spent an awful lot of time talking about Eisenhower and that the editors of the Journals specifically included all the Eisenhower related entries because presidents dissing presidents makes for good reading.
It's clear from all his comments that Kennedy didn't like Ike:
"It's just like Eisenhower. The worse I do, the more popular I get," is a comment JFK made shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco when the results of the latest Gallup poll had just come out. The poll showed Kennedy with an 82% approval rating.
When Schlesinger's father (a former Harvard professor as well) published an article on historians ranking of the presidents, Kennedy expressed great delight that Ike was ranked a lowly 22nd: "At first I thought it was too bad that Ike was in Europe and would miss the article, but then I decided that some conscientious friend in the United States would send him a copy."
Discussing with Schlesinger the first volume of Eisenhower's presidential memoirs, JFK commented on how "self righteous" they were: "Apparently he (Ike) never did anything wrong."
On another day he shared his assessment of a recent Eisenhower press conference: "The thing I liked best was the picture of Eisenhower attacking medical care for the old under Social Security as 'socialized medicine' - and then getting into his government limousine and heading out to Walter Reed."
The closest any reference about Ike came to being complementary was a remark Kennedy shared with Schlesinger after returning from a visit with Ike in California: "I have never found him pleasanter. He was relaxed and seemed really glad to see me. Usually he's such a cold bastard."
To be fair, Kennedy's dislike for Ike may have, in part, been a natural reaction to Ike's obvious dislike and resentment of him - the rich, young, whippersnapping, Ivy League, big spending Democratic. To enumerate all the reasons why Ike felt the way he did about Kennedy would take another entire blog entry. Maybe even two.
It's those blown-out left knees of ours that, at the moment, are our most glaring common characteristic. I injured mine playing football senior year in high school. Ike did the same to his while playing football his sophomore year in West Point.
Ike was a talented running back described by the New York Times as "one of the most promising backs in Eastern football." Sadly, while playing against Tufts a week after having lost to Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School, Ike severely twisted his knee and had to be carried off the field.
Despite the serious swelling, Ike was unaware of how badly injured his knee was. Several days later while repeatedly dismounting and remounting a horse in a riding drill, the knee blew out. Cartilage and tendons were badly torn. He spent four days in the infirmary, his leg immobilized in a cast, the doctors pronouncing that his football days were over.
Ike was devastated by the doctors' verdict. He tailspinned into depression and self pity. His grades plummeted and he talked about resigning from the Academy. He attempted to rehabilitate his knee with long distance running to no avail. He injured it again. And reinjured it while boxing and again while playing handball. It never properly healed.
I was a receiver on our Carmel High School football team. Coach said I'd make a decent receiver if "you ever decided to play like you didn't have a load of lead in your ***." The first practice of senior season I tore up my knee going out for a pass.
In those years, if you dared get injured the coach expected you to play through it. I hobbled through the rest of the season, my knee heavily taped and managing to run at only three quarters speed. The knee continued to bother me through college. I underwent surgery in my twenties to remove shattered cartilage.
Ike's knee injury would shape his life. When on the verge of graduating in 1915, he was informed that due to his injury the army considered him physically unfit and planned to deny him a commission. The academy surgeon intervened and recommended Ike be approved for a sedentary and unexciting commission in the coastal artillery. Ike refused the offer and threatened to forsake the army entirely and move to Argentina and be a gaucho. A compromise was reached. If Ike would agree to apply for service in the infantry instead of the cavalry, he would be recommended for a commission.
And thus Lt. Dwight D. Eisenhower began his military career in the United States Army Infantry.
Ike's knee would bother him the rest of his life, but most particularly during the war. At various times the army doctors would put his knee in a cast and order him to use a cane or crutches which he did only in the privacy of his room.
I've continued to run and play basketball and bicycle over the past 40 years. But now suddenly I've come to the end of the line. Sooner than I ever expected, I am forced to get a knee replacement. My joints are bleeding and I go under the knife tomorrow.
The Ike Blog will be on hiatus for the next several weeks while I adjust physically to my artificial knee and emotionally to the prospect of not being able to run again.
Ike eventually adjusted to his problem knee just fine. He took up a pursuit that turned into a passion - one that subjected his knee to far less pounding than his beloved football - golf. Whether I would have the patience and forbearance to endure the "game of kings" remains to be seen. The way Ike would curse and carry on while on the golf course seems to suggest he hardly had the aptitude for the game either.
(The Ike Blog should return in a couple weeks with new postings. In the meantime, feel free to check out some of the earlier posts via the links at the bottom of this page.)
Stalin was responsible for the murder of millions upon millions of innocent Soviet and Eastern European suspected dissidents, relatives of dissidents, farmers, artists, poets, intellectuals, military officers, factory workers, scientists, engineers, kulaks, Ukrainians, Jews, Russian Orthodox, Catholics, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, and bourgeoisie. He even had many of his loyal followers and personal friends summarily executed. After the end of the war, he began to harbor such a seething mistrust of his "allies," Truman and Churchill, that he surely would have liked to have them dispatched as well, if only they were within reach.
But Stalin liked Ike.
Towards the end of the war in Europe, on March 28, 1945, General Eisenhower bypassed the Combined Chiefs of Staff and sent Stalin a telegram. Unsure of where the western Allied troops would eventually meet up with Soviet forces advancing into Germany from the east, Eisenhower informed Stalin that the Allied advance would be toward the Dresden area instead of Berlin. Eisenhower, in disagreement with the British, felt that Berlin would be too costly an objective and one whose value was far more political than military. Besides, the Yalta Agreement had designated Berlin to be within the Soviet zone of occupation.
Stalin promptly replied, agreeing that Dresden would be a preferable target and dismissing Berlin as strategically insignificant. In reality though, the ever conniving "Uncle Joe" was deploying the Red Army so that Berlin was the primary objective.
So Eisenhower left Berlin to the Soviets, despite British objections. And thus Uncle Joe had good reason to like Ike.
Stalin wanted to meet Eisenhower after the war. In August of 1945, Eisenhower flew to Moscow accompanied by his good friend Soviet WWII hero, Marshal Zhukov. Stalin warmly welcomed Ike and invited him to stand beside him atop Lenin's tomb to watch a parade of 10,000 athletes march across Red Square. Stalin even apologized to Eisenhower for advancing to Berlin instead of Dresden as he had said he would.
Ike and Stalin talked for hours and parted even more impressed with each other. "General Eisenhower is a very great man, not only because of his military accomplishments, but because of his human, friendly, kind, and frank nature," Stalin would later tell US ambassador Averell Harriman.
With the conclusion of the war in Europe, Ike had been very optimistic about the likelihood of a Stalin-led Soviet Union and the United States being able to work together cooperatively to maintain peace in the post war world. His hopes began to dissolve when America dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. Then, after years serving as Military Governor of occupied Germany, Army Chief of Staff, Supreme Commander of NATO and witnessing the growing Cold War rhetoric and saber rattling and burgeoning nuclear arms race, his hopes vanished.
When Eisenhower won the presidential election in 1952, Stalin, in a rare interview, hinted that he'd like to meet with the new president. A reporter asked Eisenhower if there was a chance the two would actually meet some day in the Soviet Union. Eisenhower replied that he "would meet with anybody anywhere where I thought there was the slightest chance of doing any good, as long as it was in keeping with what the American people expect of their Chief Executive."
Whether the American people could expect and tolerate their president meeting with a notorious communist dictator in 1953 was never tested. Only six weeks after Eisenhower assumed the presidency, Stalin was dead.
The death of Stalin opened up an opportunity for America to aggressively pursue détente with the new Soviet leadership. But Eisenhower and his State Department just didn't take advantage of the moment, in part perhaps because it wasn't clear who was now in power in the Kremlin. But Stalin's death did prove to be a contributing factor to the progress made in the armistice negotiations that eventually led to an end to the war in Korea in June of 1953.
There is no doubt though that Stalin liked Ike. When Nikita Khrushchev paid his visit to America in 1959 he commented that Stalin frequently spoke of Eisenhower's noble character and his decency, generosity, and chivalry in his dealings with allies.
Noble, decent, chivalrous - an impressive testament to Eisenhower's character. But coming from the likes of Joseph Stalin, a compliment that might easily be construed as entirely left handed.
Ike liked Westerns. None were nominated this year. The last to be was the remake of True Grit in 2010. Ike probably would have enjoyed that. However, I'm sure he would have preferred the original with John Wayne. John Wayne was his kind of actor. But Ike had died just a couple months before the original True Grit premiered in June of 1969.
The White House projectionist log indicates that President Eisenhower watched over 200 westerns during his two terms. Two of his favorites won Oscars back to back - High Noon in 1952 and Shane in 1953. Both could easily be interpreted as allegories of the Cold War. Ike, in fact, watched Shane at Camp David with Soviet Premier Khrushchev during his 1959 visit. Eisenhower even tried to explain to Khrushchev why he loved westerns: "I know they don't have any substance to them and don't require any thought to appreciate, but they always have a lot of fancy tricks. Also, I like horses."
Khrushchev in turn commented on how much Stalin loved American westerns.
Eisenhower had clear cinematic standards that he rigorously applied to all western films. He didn't like his westerns marred by any unnecessary romantic mush. He wanted action, and also a clear delineation between good and evil. I suspect he didn't care so much for the spaghetti westerns that became popular in the mid sixties in which violence was gratuitous and conflict wasn't always clearly between absolute good and absolute evil, but more so between blatantly evil and ambiguously evil. He refused to watch westerns starring Robert Mitchum. The actor aroused the President's displeasure after being charged with marijuana possession.
Ike was also fond of heartwarming and inspirational sports flicks as evidenced by his absolute favorite movie, Angels in the Outfield. Sergeant Moaney, Ike's valet, would often haul out the movie projector to show films at the President's Gettysburg home. He claimed to have shown Angels in the Outfield 38 times. It would be fair to assume then that Ike would've enjoyed Moneyball - a good hearted movie about underdogs without any romantic subplot to slow it down. Not too unlike Angels - with statistics taking over the role of invisible heavenly saviors.
Interestingly, Ike had little tolerance for war movies. He couldn't abide Hollywood's tendency to take liberties with the realities of war. He had no patience for the movie, The Longest Day, based on Cornelius Ryan's best seller about the D-Day invasion. It was a highly acclaimed, award winning film, but Ike walked out on it after only several minutes.
There was a war movie nominated this year - War Horse. And this Ike may have liked. It's about World War I which Ike didn't experience directly, frustratingly sequestered on the home front training troops as he was at the time. And as he confessed to Khrushchev, he did like horses. He was an adept horseman in his early military years and had several quarter horses and Arabians at his Gettysburg farm. I've read that War Horse was supposedly filmed in a style intended as an homage to 1950s filmmaking. If so, that would possibly add to its Eisenhowerian appeal, if only on a subconscious level.
For the most part, Hollywood no longer makes the sort of movies Ike liked. Apparently, the movie going public just doesn't thirst for a good cowboy film like they once did. If Ike were still watching movies today, I'm sure he'd long for those days when even a communist dictator couldn't resist a classic American western.
American ground forces were scattered and ineptly deployed throughout the mountain passes. And then there was General Fredendall, commander of the II Corps. He inspired little confidence, sequestered as he was in a collection of massive bunkers an entire 65 miles behind the front lines, prompting an even lower British opinion of American leadership.
On Feb. 14, General Arnim's German Panzer Division surrounded, attacked, and overran American positions at Sidi-bou- Zid Five days later, Rommel's Africa Korps which had been fighting Montgomery's 8th Army in the east surprised American troops defending Kasserine Pass, blowing right through them and setting themselves up for an opportunity to drive even further west. Several days later, the Germans withdrew. But the damage was done. The American army had been humiliated. American losses were more than 6,000 killed and wounded, over 3,000 missing. The American press questioned whether the American soldier was up to the task of defeating the German Army. And the British more that ever derided the Americans ability to fight. It would be some time yet before the Americans would earn the respect of their British allies.
On the positive side, there certainly was much that was learned by Eisenhower and his troops at the debacle of Kasserine Pass. Many were the lessons that would quickly prove beneficial:
First, American officers acknowledged that they could actually learn from their seasoned British counterparts. Secondly, Eisenhower realized and resolved that training for his troops could and would never stop, even while they were on the front lines. They would need to become more disciplined, less dependent on roads and their vehicles, keep their divisions together to fight as single units, and rely more on enveloping actions rather than frontal assaults. Thirdly, it became obvious to Eisenhower that he would need to work much harder to improve the coordination between British and American units and between ground and air forces.
Kasserine Pass also awakened Eisenhower to the realization he could not afford to be patient when it came to the incompetent performance of his commanders. He would need to steel himself and be ruthless when the necessity arose to sack the inept. He did relieve General Fredendall of command and replaced him with General George Patton and then installed General Omar Bradley as deputy corps commander. These would be the two commanders Ike would always count on for the rest of the war.
One could argue that there was not another American Army setback in the European Theater until the latter half of 1944 with the ill-conceived Operation Market Garden and the costly Battle of the Bulge. But Market Garden was a joint operation with the British. And Ike would always contend that the Bulge wasn't so much a setback as it was an opportunity for the Allies to deliver the German Army its final death blow.
In fact, perhaps Kasserine and the Bulge could both be viewed as setbacks transformed into opportunities.
The American army began their World War II operations in the European Theater with the invasion of North Africa on November, 8, 1942. 117,000 American and British forces landed simultaneously at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. Eisenhower was in command of the invasion, code named Torch, and it was his first battlefield command.
Ironically, the obstacle to a successful fulfillment of the operation wasn't, initially, the enemy. It was America's present and future Allies, the French and the British.
First, there was the French. North Africa was French colonial territory controlled by the Nazi collaborating French Vichy government. French troops offered moderate resistance to the landings at Oran and engaged the Allies in bitter fighting around Casablanca. Eisenhower found himself devoting most of his time wheeling and dealing with the French, trying to reach an accommodation with a variety of bickering French leaders in order to stop needless bloodshed between countries that he felt should be naturally allied in the fight against Germany.
Frustratingly for Eisenhower, most of the tactics and strategy he found himself employing at the outset of his first combat operation were far more political than military.
Ultimately, Ike was successful in convincing the Vichy French to agree to a cease fire and transfer their allegiance back to the Allied camp. However, his efforts to reach an agreement with the Nazi collaborating Vichy leaders were highly criticized by the press and politicians back home and in Britain. So much so that when Churchill, Roosevelt and the Combined Chiefs of Staff met in Casablanca for a conference in January, Ike thought chances were likely he might be removed from command.
And then there were the British. They harbored little confidence in the green, undertrained American troops and openly expressed their disdain which in turn bred resentment among the American troops. The animosity between the two would only grow as the advance wavered. Eisenhower struggled to achieve cooperation and a sense of mutual respect between the two.
Meanwhile, the Allied forces were making slow headway advancing through Algeria and pushing the Germans eastward. German forces would engage in counterattacks, but for the most part were orderly falling back and concentrating on toughening their defenses in Tunisia. By December the Allies had continued their offensive into western Tunisia and hoped to trap the Germans in a vice grip with Montgomery's 8th Army advancing from the east. But then things bogged down.
The Allies lacked sufficient armor and air support to sustain the offensive. The Luftwaffe was bombing and strafing with impunity. Allied ground forces were spread too thin and suffered from inexperienced field commanders. The supply line had stretched to over 500 miles and troop morale was low. And then an incessant rain turned the countryside into an impassable quagmire. With that, all hope of continuing the offensive for the moment was lost. Shortly before Christmas, Eisenhower cancelled offensive operations.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Ike had a modest repertoire of Lincoln stories he liked to tell. His favorites were those that recounted the sort of predicaments Abe faced that paralleled his own:
PATRONAGE AND SMALLPOX
Undoubtedly that's why Ike liked to recall how Lincoln was assailed by office seekers after his presidential election victory. These too were Republicans demanding positions in government as payment for party loyalty. During a particularly tiring day dealing with them, Lincoln began to feel unwell and was forced to retire for the afternoon. When the doctor examining him diagnosed his illness as a mild case of smallpox, the President responded only half in jest, "Good, now I have something that I can give to everyone!"
GOLF AND THEATER
In a similar vein, Ike was always criticized for spending too much time playing golf in the midst of a world on the brink of nuclear annihilation. And he would defend himself much as he did Abe, reminding reporters that he was nearly 70 and needed some outlet where he could relax, contemplate, and momentarily escape the stress of the job. It's how he stayed healthy. He owed it to the American people to stay healthy.
As Ike saw it, golf was his theater.
Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery was Eisenhower's McClellan during the Second World War. Monty was arrogant, self infatuated, persnickety, boastful, disdainful, unwilling to advance on the enemy unless absolutely assured of an overwhelming superiority of troops and firepower, but well liked by his men - a carbon copy of "Little Mac." For Ike, Lincoln's response to McClellan's disrespect illustrated the President's great humility as well as single minded dedication to winning the war.
Ike too had to hold more than one horse during his war.
Leeches, critics, and tragedy… Lincoln endured it all with humility, humor, and unwavering fortitude. How could Ike or anyone else not admire the man?
What size shoe did Ike wear?
Did Ike have many cavities?
Would Ike ever watch the Miss America pageant on TV? Did he root for Miss Kansas or Miss Pennsylvania?
Did Eisenhower believe in UFOs?
What did he think of Stanley Kubrick's film, Dr. Strangelove?
Did he have any tolerance for Abstract Expressionism?
Did he ever feel self-conscious about his bald head? It's hard to tell - what color was his hair?
Do you think he ever fell asleep during the sermon at church service?
When Ike drank martinis, how much vermouth did he prefer? What was his favorite brand of scotch?
Do you think he would have liked Tom Selleck's portrayal of him in that TV movie?
What did he think of the Beatles?
What do you think he'd be most surprised by, a black president or black Masters champion?
Do you think he would still be a Republican today?
I've read that he was secretly Jewish? Was he?
I heard he cursed when he played golf. Did he have a favorite curse word?
Was he upset that Nixon lost the election because Mayor Daley resurrected all those dead Democrats in Chicago to vote for Kennedy?
Why'd they call Eisenhower Ike instead of Ize or Howie?
Do you know what his favorite joke was? Did he like knock-knock jokes?
Do you think he ever worried about gays in the military?
Who did he think was the bigger pain in the rear - Monty or De Gaulle
What would he think about his granddaughter marrying a Russian space scientist and Khrushchev's son becoming an American citizen?
Boxers or briefs?
ELVIS, IKE, AND NIXON
This was January, 6, 1957 and actually his third appearance on Ed Sullivan. Elvis fans typically don't recall that on his first two appearances, despite also singing Hound Dog (and cleverly introducing it the first time with, "Friends, as a philosopher once said…" and then launching into the lyrics - "You ain't nuthin' but a hound dog…"), his pelvis wasn't censored.
In the Eisenhower White House, the First Lady was very tolerant of Elvis, his pelvis, and rock n' roll. The President, however, approved of neither. In fact, he refused to let his grandkids play Elvis records within range of his hearing. According to his grandson David, the President was shocked to discover that his two favorite songs, O Sol Mio and Army Blue, had been redone by Elvis and renamed It's Now or Never and Love Me Tender.
But the following year, Ike's disapproval of the King would, to some extent, soften.
Elvis received his draft notice in December of 1957. After being granted a 60 day deferment to film the movie King Creole, he dutifully reported to his local draft board on March 24, 1958 to begin serving in the Army. He did so not only without complaint, but even cheerfully. And Ike was very impressed.
In fact, Elvis could have easily requested to serve in the Special Service branch and sing his way through his enlistment and perhaps appear in commercials to promote the Army. Instead, he preferred not to receive any special treatment and was assigned to a tank battalion and suffered through boot camp, KP, and guard duty just like any typical soldier.
Many Elvis fans weren't very happy about his enlistment and some sent letters of concern to the White House. One that is in the National Archives today was sent to the President from three young female fans from Montana. It read:
Dear President Eisenhower,
Elvis Presley Lovers,
Elvis had become eligible to vote on his 21st birthday on June 8, 1956. He could have voted for either Ike or Adlai Stevenson in November of that year but chose not to vote at all even though he was home in Memphis on Election Day.
Despite no sign of party affiliation, the Democrats dreamed of utilizing Elvis in the Stevenson campaign. With Eisenhower and the Republican Party sucking up so much TV time with hokey stunts like a 66th birthday party for the President hosted by Jimmy Stewart, a coffee klatch with Ike and several women voters, and a "People's" press conference, the Democrats were itching to retaliate by corralling Elvis for a TV ad in which he would counsel voters:
I'm young and I admit to knowing very little about politics - some say I know very little about singing… But from what I've learned in a short time about advertising and promotion, I certainly would hate to see us make the mistake of choosing a president on the basis of a popularity contest.
But it never came to pass.
Years later, in 1970, Elvis would pay a visit to President Richard Nixon, Ike's former vice president, at the White House. The visit was initiated by Elvis in a letter requesting a meeting with the President and an opportunity to be given a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The meeting was arranged and Elvis received his badge. However, the Colt .45 pistol that Elvis had brought as a gift for the President was confiscated by the Secret Service. The meeting of The King and the President was forever preserved in a now famous photograph taken by the White House photographer.
Today, of all the inquiries made to the National Archives for copies of photos and documents including even the Constitution and Bill of Rights, it's the Elvis - Nixon photo that is by far the most requested.
But, indeed, there was one Republican president who introduced a national health care bill back on this date, January 31st, in 1955 - Dwight D. Eisenhower. And this was a shade ironic considering Ike campaigned on a platform that opposed "socialized medicine."
Nevertheless, in 1955 Ike asked Congress for $25 million to begin funding what he referred to as health reinsurance. Under his plan, private insurance companies who extended benefits to uninsured Americans would be reimbursed by the federal government if they incurred heavy losses. The bill also authorized the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (established by Eisenhower in 1953) to insure loans made by private lenders for construction of health facilities, proposed both federal grants to vocational education institutions for training nurses and increased funding for air pollution research, and offered greater assistance to states for water pollution control programs.
Republicans and the American Medical Association denounced the proposed bill as socialism and the House soundly rejected it.
Ike called a special White House conference to salvage his plan, but was told by Republican Senate Leader, William Knowland, that the Senate couldn't fit the plan into its agenda. When the Senator reminded the President that the AMA opposed the bill for reeking of socialized medicine, Ike responded, "As far as I'm concerned, the American Medical Association is just plain stupid. This plan of ours would have shown the people how we could improve their health and stay out of socialized medicine."
So here we had a Republican who fought for a national health care plan, for federally funded public works projects, for federal aid for housing (1954), for an extension of social security, and for an increase in the minimum wage.
There were times Ike didn't act very much like a 1950s Republican at all.
Look at the criticism directed at the Martin Luther King Memorial. Why a Chinese architect? Why not an African American? Why import and pay Chinese workers to assemble the memorial? Martin Luther King looks too Asian and confrontational. Even the mountains look Chinese. And then there's the flap over the paraphrased "I was a drum major" quote that the NPS is now going to change.
Before that it was the World War II Memorial. Even veterans complained. It shouldn't be erected on the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument - the design is too sprawling and intrusive. Many argued too that the design style was reminiscent of the overly grandiose architecture favored by the totalitarian regimes of the 30s and 40s.
Prior to the WWII Memorial, it was the FDR Memorial. Disability activists were enraged that FDR wasn't portrayed in a wheel chair. After all, he spent much of his life in a wheelchair. The sculptor and others argued that FDR always made a point of not being photographed or even seen in public while in a wheel chair for fear his disability might negatively affect his public image. The sculptor compromised and added casters to the arm chair in which FDR sits in a long cape. Then anti-smoking advocates lobbied to eliminate any references to Roosevelt's smoking habit. Animal rights groups wanted assurances that Eleanor wouldn't be depicted wearing a fox stole. And historians complained that the entire memorial ignored FDR's preferences. He wanted nothing but a block of stone without any ornamentation.
The Korean Veterans Memorial, dedicated in 1995, was originally designed by a team of architects and artists from Penn State. But when their plans were modified by review committees, the team dropped out and sued. Critics complained that the final product lacked "grandeur and unity."
And then there was the first that I can remember of the long string of controversial memorials , the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, now one of the most beloved in the capital. When Maya Lin's design was first chosen - the simple black wall emerging from the ground with the names of the American dead etched into it - it met with howls of protest from all quarters, but particularly from the veterans themselves. They referred to it as a "black gash of shame." This is it? You call this a memorial? This is more a token of all the ridicule we've consistently endured for serving in this war. There's not even a statue, not even an American flag. No depiction what so ever of the American soldier who fought and died there.
James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior, initially refused to issue a building permit because of all the virulent criticism. A compromise was finally reached. After much arguing about where precisely it would be placed, a bronze statue of three American soldiers and an American flag were erected off to one side of the Wall.
Now there's the design for the Eisenhower Memorial by world renowned architect, Frank Gehry. And once again a battle rages. The criticism isn't so much over the design itself which is conceptually innovative - a long steel woven tapestry with large steel columns in the foreground - but over the design motif: Eisenhower's Kansas boyhood. The tapestry, the focal point of the memorial, will be woven with scenes not of Ike's great military career or eight year presidency, but of his boyhood home of Abilene. The memorial's one lone statue won't portray Ike the Supreme Commander nor Ike the Commander in Chief, but Ike the barefoot boy.
The response of many, including two of the Eisenhower granddaughters has been, "What the …!?"
The concern is that the memorial doesn't reflect Ike the man, his impact on America and the world, his accomplishments as general and president. The fear is that someone unfamiliar with Eisenhower (and in another 50 years there certainly will be far more Americans who don't remember him) will visit the memorial and leave without garnering any idea of who the man was, the contributions he made to American history, and why he deserved a memorial. The tapestry or the solitary statue - something needs to express Ike's accomplishments.
Gehry and others have defended the design: The greatness of Eisenhower and the fondness Americans have for the man comes in part from his modest Kansas upbringing and how he retained his down to earth nature despite his rise to fame and power as one of most important world leaders of the 20th century. That in turn serves as a reflection of all that is great and good about America.
Fine and good the critics say, but you can't devote the entire memorial to that one idea. For those who don't know Eisenhower in the first place, that idea won't resonate and would render the entire memorial meaningless.
At the moment, the controversy continues to simmer. It will be interesting to see if the memorial design will remain as is or the concerns of Eisenhower family members will be taken into account.
JANUARY 20th - THE BEGINNING AND THE END
January 20, 1953 was the date Ike's presidency officially began - the day of his first inauguration. January 20, 1961 was the date of President Kennedy's inauguration - Ike's very last day as president.
January 20, 1953 was a fairly balmy day for a presidential inauguration - cloudy but with a noontime temperature of 49. Truman and Ike arrived together at the Capitol in the White House Lincoln, both wearing homburgs instead of the traditional top hats. Ike was sworn in on the East Portico by Chief Justice Frederick Vinson on two bibles: one used by George Washington when he took the oath to become the first president in 1789 and the other Ike's personal West Point Bible.
Ike then broke from tradition and prefaced his inaugural address by reciting a prayer that he had written that morning. His address was 2446 words. It returned again and again to the notions of peace and freedom, strength and security.
The inaugural parade went on for 4 hours and 39 minutes. 750,000 spectators lined the parade route. Ike and Mamie led the parade riding together in a white Cadillac with the top down, the first time a new President and First Lady had ever ridden together in the parade. Ike and Mamie watched the remainder of the parade from the reviewing stand in front of the White House accompanied by former President Herbert Hoover, Ike's WWII boss, General George Marshall, and Mrs. Clare Booth Luce.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was when a palomino-riding California cowboy in the parade, Marty Montana, paused in front of the reviewing stand and lassoed the President. The moment was captured by a Life photographer.
The January 20th eight years later in 1961 was a fairly depressing day for Ike. Ike didn't mind leaving the presidency so much as having to turn it over to that young, whippersnapping, big spending Democrat, John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy irked him. Ike considered him too young and inexperienced to deserve the presidency. He felt the election was bought by JFK's father Joseph Kennedy and that once a Kennedy got into the White House the family would establish a political machine far greater than even Tammany Hall. He became particularly upset when Kennedy claimed during the campaign that Ike was responsible for a missile gap with the Soviets. Ike knew that was an outright lie. The U-2 over-flights had proven that if there was a missile gap, it was one that was by far in favor of the US.
A couple days prior to the inauguration, Ike bemoaned to a friend that he could hear the carpenters building the scaffolding for the inaugural parade reviewing stand outside the White House. He then added that he now knew how the condemned man feels when listening to the gallows being constructed right outside his cell.
January 20th, 1961 was a very cold, snow packed day. Ike met with the incoming president for coffee at the White House and they drove together to the Capitol, not in homburgs this time, but in the traditional top hats. Cardinal Cushing delivered a very long invocation (While sitting on the inaugural platform, California Governor Pat Brown leaned over to LBJ's 12 year old nephew and said of the Cardinal, "If he doesn't stop now, I'm quitting the Church."). Robert Frost recited a poem from memory because he was so blinded by the sun's glare he couldn't read the poem he had written especially for the inauguration. Marion Anderson sang the Star Spangled Banner.
JFK then preceded to deliver the most memorable Inauguration speech in American history.
Ike and Mamie left the Capitol for a farewell reception at the F Street Club and then made their way to their Gettysburg home in a 1955 Chrysler Imperial driven by chauffeur Leonard Dry and escorted by a lone Secret Service vehicle.
As the Eisenhowers drove through the gate at the entrance to their farm, the Secret Service vehicle honked its horn, U-turned, and headed back in the direction of Washington.
That was the moment Ike said when it all hit home. After eight years, he was no longer President.
Twinkies, of course, were a staple of American childhood diets during the Eisenhower era, as iconic to 1950s popular culture as Ike, Elvis, Howdy Doody, TV dinners, pink Cadillacs, and coonskin caps.
Now, I've never heard it said, nor even seen it documented, that Ike ever ate a Twinkie. He was a fan of TV dinners and there are photos of him swigging a Coca Cola. But no Twinkies. I'm positive his four grandkids were fans of the delectable twin snack cakes though.
In contrast to the lack of evidence supporting Ike's love of Twinkies, there were two presidents who we know were very much enamored of the cakes. Bill Clinton considered them so enduring an American symbol that he included them in the White House millennium time capsule.
And then there was Jimmy Carter. Legend has it he had a Twinkie vending machine installed in the White House.
Twinkies have been around since the 1930s, but they may have achieved their greatest popularity in the 1950s when they served as sponsor for the Howdy Doody Show every Saturday morning from 1956 to 1960.
And therein lies the Ike / Twinkie connection - Howdy Doody.
Ike and Howdy had several things in common:
Howdy touted TV dinners just as the President did.
And just like Ike, Howdy was running for president in 1956, at least as suggested by the now very rare Howdy Doody for President buttons that are still around.
But most germane to this entry, it was Howdy Doody that taught kids both how to toast President Eisenhower and how to love eating Twinkies. Twinkie the Kid, a Twinkie shaped cowhand attired in cowboy hat, bandana, and boots, was a fixture on the show.
In one episode, Buffalo Bob fixes up a big bowl of Twinkies for the Doodyville fans. He pours milk, flour, eggs, and a secret ingredient in to the bowl, stirs, and then with an Alakazam pulls out a pair of packaged Twinkies. He urges kids to get their parents to buy them some of the delicious snack cakes today!
A more tenuous Ike-Twinkie connection was more recently brought to light in a column for the Harvard Business Review by Shane Frederick in which he compares how the opportunity costs for war were calculated first vividly by Eisenhower in his 1953 Chance for Peace speech and then more vaguely by an anti Iraq War website:
Eisenhower: "The cost of one heavy modern bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities… We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people."
Website: "… the cost of the war in Iraq (is) 'the loss of nine Twinkies per American per day for a year.'"
And there you go. Most recent coverage of the impending Twinkie disaster suggests that even though Hostess may go bankrupt, the Twinkie will survive. I believe I heard a nationwide collective sigh of relief when that latest news broke around 3 pm on last Wednesday. Twinkie pundits have now assured the public that the demise of the cakes is less than imminent.
I for one am now breathing easier. I suppose if Ike were still around he'd be little affected by the news. His grandkids, however, are surely much relieved.
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The agent almost choked on his mint trying to keep from laughing. The President was like a little kid trying to get away with doing something when his Mom's back was turned. . (Confessions of a Faux Secret Service Agent, September 1-4)
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This is all a far cry from presidential campaigning 60 years ago. In 1952, the year of Eisenhower's first election victory, there was one televised debate, a pseudo-debate in May where contenders from both parties were asked two questions in an open forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. It was the very first debate to be nationally televised. In 1952, only 13 or so states had direct primaries beginning with New Hampshire on March 11. And in 1952, the party nominees were far from predetermined at the outset of the conventions.
In January of 1952 there had yet to be any campaigning. In fact, the two candidates who eventually won their respective party nominations - General Dwight Eisenhower and Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, were at that point still insisting they had no interest in running. Stevenson said that he intended to run again for the governorship while Ike dismissed any rumors of harboring political aspirations by asserting he had a job to do as Supreme commander of NATO. On January 1, he wrote a letter to President Truman assuring him that he had no interest in seeking the nomination.
In the first couple weeks of January 1952, no one was even quite sure what Eisenhower's party affiliation was. McCalls magazine offered Ike $40,000 to answer the question, "Are you a Republican?"
In 1952, reluctance and evasiveness served both the eventual Republican and Democratic nominees quite well.
The continually emerging contrasts between the 1952 and 2012 campaigns will surely provide further fodder for fascination as we inch ever closer to the 2012 election.
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Did You Know?
General Eisenhower referred to World War II as the “fartingest war in history,” a result of all the cabbage and brussel sprouts served in London due to food shortages throughout the war.