Wednesday, Oct. 14, marked the 130th anniversary of the birth of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States and the Supreme Allied Commander of European forces in World War II.
Eisenhower was the true successor of Republican Party leadership, passed down from Abraham Lincoln. Ike, as he was affectionally known, called himself a progressive Republican and was proud of his role in racial integration of the U.S. armed forces. Reflecting on his leadership serves as a stark reminder of how far the Republican Party has sunk into the depths of radical right-wing ideology. Ike would never recognize the nationalistic, isolationist party of today.
Eisenhower was a national hero following his leadership in World War II. As the 1952 presidential election drew closer, both the Democratic and Republican parties courted him as a candidate. He had never held public office before, but Americans respected his years of military leadership. He was a man confident of his own abilities, but always respecting the knowledge of those who served under him. Ike would never have said, “I know more than all my generals.”
Eisenhower decided to run on the GOP ticket and entered the race as the country was in the middle of the Korean Conflict, an undeclared war that seemed likely to drag on and on, and possibly bring China into a massive Asian war. Ike promised to go to Korea himself and bring an end to the war. After being elected, he fulfilled his promise to end the conflict, although the solution was an armistice and not a peace treaty.
As president, Ike was a progressive moderate, something not found in today’s Republican party. He continued to support the New Deal programs of former Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, especially Social Security. He created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He continued racial integration of the armed forces, which had been started by President Harry Truman.
“I have just one purpose,” Eisenhower said. “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.”
When’s the last time you heard the word “progressive” and “Republican” in the same sentence? The Grand Old Party of today is not very grand in the legacy of the great Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower was a golfer and comedians often joked about the time he spent on the golf course. One joke was that Ike was trying to “keep up with the Joneses, especially Bobby.” (Bobby Jones was a legendary golfer in the 1950s.) They never envisioned a future president who would spend more time on his own golf courses than in the Oval Office.
Eisenhower was the first Republican in several decades to attract Democratic voters and to champion bipartisan legislation in Congress. It was an agreement between Eisenhower and Tennessee Democratic U.S. Sen. Albert Gore (father of Al Gore) that led to the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Yes, Gore, Sr., helped launch superhighways and his son, Al, helped launch information superhighways.
It was also about this time in 1957 when the wonderful, nostalgic days of the Eisenhower 50s were brought to an end. The event was the Oct. 4 launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite, signaling the end of American defense domination and the beginning of the space race.
“I Like Ike” was the slogan on the Eisenhower campaign buttons. The surviving senior citizens who once wore those badges proudly, have little to be proud of in the current swamp that calls itself the Republican Party.
Winston Jones is a former journalist living in Carrollton.