by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Of all the potential National Review writers who might have authored a cover story praising the administration of the 34th president, Kevin Williamson might prove a bit surprising. Williamson tends to focus his work on libertarian themes, bashing socialists and big-government apologists.
That background would not seem to suggest an affinity for a Republican leader who generated heartburn among many of the conservatives of his day because of his apparent lack of appetite for challenging New Deal programs or government-loving unions.
But Williamson devotes 4 1/2 pages (roughly 10 percent of the latest NR) to a defense of Ike against his conservative critics.
Conservatives would have to wait for John F. Kennedy for their big tax cuts and their proxy war with the Soviets. The interstate highway system was paid for out of a dedicated gasoline tax, while other new spending was offset by intelligent cuts in the military and elsewhere. Eisenhower inherited a large deficit in 1953 (large by the standards of the time, some $6.49 billion) and left office with a surplus, following surpluses in 1956 and 1957. If he had not signed off on a $12.8 billion deficit in 1959, a product of the arms races, he would have presided over an aggregate surplus.
There were no major recessions in his eight years in office — indeed, the U.S. manufacturing and export sectors were performing at unprecedented levels of productivity, as a result of which employment and wages remained strong. That had something to do with the post-war global economic situation — the United States was the last industrial economy standing — but Ike’s insistence that budgets be balanced, resources be diverted from unproductive military engagements, and education and opportunity be more widely accessible helped convert what could have been a post-war bubble into a decade of broadly shared growth. General Eisenhower brought general peace and general prosperity.
Later, Williamson discusses Ike’s political philosophy.
Eisenhower may have sometimes called himself a progressive, but his bedrock priorities — a strong military, balanced budgets, and limited government — are classical conservatism.
In another instance:
… Eisenhower had a deep appreciation for those most conservative of virtues: steadiness, judgment, predictability, attention to detail. It was an era of few surprises from the White House.
And as Williamson reminds today’s GOP: “Under Eisenhower, Republicans were able to communicate to Americans a sense of being on their side.”