by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Dwight Eisenhower appears to be having a moment. A popular president who was nevertheless looked down on by the media and the smart set in his time, Ike has grown in historical reputation and is now seen as one of our greatest presidents. Similarly, the 1950s have come down in popular perception as a dull time, but they were a time of peace, prosperity, and American success—and a period in which America made significant social progress.
For these reasons—and perhaps also because recent presidents may have made Americans nostalgic for some bygone aspects of midcentury politics—there are at least three new books on Ike that bear examination. In a short biography, Louis Galambos, an editor of Eisenhower’s papers, discusses how Eisenhower went from a humble childhood in Abilene, Kansas, to leading the Allied forces in World War II and then to the presidency. James Simon takes a narrower approach, examining Eisenhower’s relationship with chief justice and former California governor Earl Warren in the context of the civil rights stirrings of the 1950s. And William Hitchcock looks at the 1950s overall as exemplified and shaped by Eisenhower and his presidency. …
… Overall, the Eisenhower presidency was successful—and judged so both at the time and from today’s vantage. Ike served two full terms as the U.S. economy hummed and the country artfully ended one war and then avoided new military entanglements. He also shone in relation to his successors over the next two decades. Following Eisenhower, no president managed to serve two full terms until Ronald Reagan.