President Eisenhower, No Warm And Fuzzy Grandpa

Have you ever finished a book and concluded that the text was well researched and presented, the story lively and engaging, and yet at the end you still had not warmed to the main subject?

That is how I felt at the end of “Going Home To Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower 1961-1969”, by David Eisenhower.

Yet the book is one I would highly recommend

This book is a polished look at the end years of an ex-American President, and as such it is quite remarkable.  There are nuggets of political insight into the power plays of the aging general, and funny moments when it was noted Dwight sat a certain distance from the TV to avoid radiation.  (I trust that was for humor.)

The book is a pleasant and informative read, and grandson David along with his wife Julie Nixon Eisenhower, are to be applauded for what turned out to be a keeper for the bookshelves.  They hopefully will write more books in the same style.

Therefore my problem is not with the book, but instead with Dwight Eisenhower as presented in the book.  

Going into the book I thought a more  warm and fuzzy grandpa image would emerge at some point, but none ever appeared.  While I did not expect Grandpa Walton to leap from the pages I did think that there would be more depth of emotion and feeling conveyed in the pages from Eisenhower.

I recall books about Abraham Lincoln who mention the tall politician taking off his waistcoat and lying down in the living room to play with his children.  There was never any moment that even remotely came close to that image within the pages of “Going Home To Glory”.

I am sure Eisenhower would have been fun to talk with, and a gentlemen all the way.  He came from a generation where manners counted, and his poise and charm was very evident in public.  That was one reason he was so electable.

But throughout the book I got the strong impression he lacked any ability for real introspection about his life.  He seemed rough at times in his personal dealings with his son, and made me feel that perhaps he viewed him as an employee more than a family member.  At times I got the same impression in how Dwight handled grandson, David, who worked painting fences and such on the Eisenhower farm.

Part of that is due, no doubt, to the military mindset that shaped almost all of Eisenhower’s life.  While the military provided a lifetime of learning and obvious career enhancements, Eisenhower never seemed to have mastered the quieter side of life where reflection and calm also shapes who people become.

It is much harder in the book to get a true handle of Mamie Eisenhower who seems content to watch soap operas in bed and play what seems to be an unending game of solitaire.  I wanted to know more about her, and wonder perhaps if after years of being neglected by the general she finally just gave up on having a normal relationship with her husband.  They had social friends and traveled but there never seems to be a loving relationship that lifts the sails of the heart between these two.

That seemed very sad.

I have long felt, as many do, that Eisenhower did not treat Richard Nixon respectfully during the fund crisis, and also when others inside Ike’s political team had hoped to replace Nixon on the ticket in 1956.  Eisenhower failed to give an early full-throated endorsement of Nixon in 1960. 

That same tepid ‘half on-half off’ attitude is displayed in “Going Home To Glory” when trying to find a replacement candidate to Barry Goldwater for the 1964 presidential nomination.

By the time the Goldwater forces had defeated the moderates, and the 1964 political season was over, Pennsylvania Governor Bill Scranton knew exactly how Richard Nixon had once felt. 

There is no real insight given as to why Eisenhower acted as he did when opening a door a crack for political assistance and then closing it.    Leaving Scranton holding the cards and not being able to play any of them on a Sunday morning news show made me feel some anger at Eisenhower.  (I will let interested readers get more details if they decide to read this book.)

I very much enjoy the background type books about presidents after they leave office.  But as I closed this book I recalled a truism.

History dictates how the story is told.

Letter From Home 3/4/11

My mom would say that as a kid growing up I always “wanted something going on”.    It seemed most of my life I heard about those years when I yearned for activity to be around me, with new things to think about or explore.  

Almost in the same breath when she recounted those years my mom was sure to add she always “just wanted a few minutes to sit down.”  

I suspect every kid, and all parents understand both sides of the coin.

I really had not given much thought to those words over the years until this past week.   As a result of all that is taking place in Madison due to the political chaos running wild, I now understand a bit more about what my mom was talking about.

Plainly put, I am exhausted.

I am not a union organizer, nor am I a state employee.  (And no, this post is not a political column.)   Instead I am just a citizen that has run on adrenaline for three weeks and I seem unable to turn off the excitement, and have no ability to ratchet down the events that are stirring me in all directions.

As a result I am really running out of energy.

As a kid I loved when my grandparents would bale hay in the field close to my home.  At times I even was able to ride on the wagon.  I looked forward to the day when construction was to start on our country road.  Motor graders belching dark smoke and huge dump trucks with dirt was perfect drama for a boy.  The razing of our barn, and the birth of a new building was great fun, even if it included my stepping on a nail.  (A rusty one.  Well, if you are going to do it…do it right.)  But in each case the event came, stayed a while, and then it was over.

Don’t get me wrong.

These past weeks in Madison have been a dream come true.  I love politics, journalism, debates on issues, and new things to blog about.  Living within range of hearing the voices of 30,000 (or more) chanting citizens at the State Capitol is amazing.  Stepping off my front stoop and knowing that the events on the front page of the paper are not in another nation, or even state, but just up the way is nothing short of remarkable.  Walking a few blocks to where the action is, and seeing it in person is just a real powerful feeling.

One of my friends that I met back at broadcasting school wrote me a note the other day.  “This must be like Christmas,  New Year’s, and your birthday all rolled up together”.  He was right.   I am in my element with all the excitement.

But I feel emotional overload. 

I am connected in a personal way as I care about the issues, and have many friends who are involved.  As such at the end of the day I find myself talking with others I know to either vent a bit or debrief and share tidbits I picked up through the day.  I love to hear their views, and some gossip.

In the morning I find myself not just reading the local paper but evaluating it to see how the front page was laid out, and what message was trying to be sent with the placement of stories. 

I have the remote welded to my hand at news time to flip through the local channels to see how and what is being covered in this drama.

I have posted more on this one story than any other news topic on my blog.  That it is taking place so close to where I live makes this a chance to see  events unfold and comment along the way.  I feel an obligation to my readers to paint the picture of events from my perspective.   This past week I had my highest number of hits in one day.  Just shy of 10,000 readers came to my blog on Wednesday.   Humbly put, not bad for a one-man blogging operation.

But along the way I have lost weight, and rubbed up to those physical limitations I should not cross.  I was reminded of that this week after introducing myself to a woman who works at the Capitol and reads my blog.  She said, “I thought you would be younger,” and then started to apologize.  I laughed and told her no offense was taken.  

But I do feel older tonight.

So I plan to try and tamp down the adrenaline high, and kick back this weekend with a good read.

In the book “Going Home To Glory”, a memoir about President Eisenhower after leaving the White House, grandson David Eisenhower pens  in the first paragraph a reminder that things always do get back to being normal.

On Inauguration Day 1961 President Eisenhower and Mamie are driven from Washington to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  Leading the way is a car with Secret Service agents.  The last line of the paragraph is quite remarkable.

“When the Eisenhowers approached the entrance to their Gettysburg farm, the Secret Service honked the horn and made a U-turn, heading back to Washington.

Things returned to normal that quickly.

President Eisenhower On Labor Unions

I am reading a book about President Eisenhower, (more on that later) and as such the topic of the former President is being discussed here at home.  James found a most interesting quote from the former Republican leader Friday night on the internet.  The quote was one that Ike had penned in a letter to his brother Edgar in November of 1954.

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. … Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” -Eisenhower

That the moderate voice of President Eisenhower would not be allowed to gain much volume in the rancid world of today’s conservatives is without doubt.  All sanity and thoughtfulness have vanished as the loud, strident, and fringe elements have overtaken the GOP.

History shows there were others who had views more in-line with traditional American values.  Sadly, as Governor Walker has demonstrated those times seem to be over, even here in Wisconsin.

Ike would not be amused.