º Eisenhower Assignment Page
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º Prof. Renka's Eisenhower Links
º Miller Center Biography - President Dwight Eisenhower: A Life in Brief
Dwight D. Eisenhower and the 'Hidden Hand' Presidency
Russell D. Renka
February 22, 2010
° Old Age and the New Calendar
° Eisenhower the Administrator
° The Cold War President
° Rhetoric, Popularity, and the McCarthy Challenge to Moral Leadership
° Hidden Legislative Hands
I. Introduction Top; Next Down
Dwight D. Eisenhower in January 1953 began his presidency in a unique manner. He was already world-famous and destined for the short list of great historical names. He did not need to be president to cap his career or add to his laurels. He lacked any background in domestic American politics. He never held a public elective office prior to his January 20 inauguration, having been a career military man from graduation at West Point in 1915 through the Allied triumph in Germany 30 years later. His political party affiliation as an adult was a subject of speculation among other political leaders. He was openly offered the prospect by Democratic President Truman of succeeding him in 1952, but by 1950 revealed his basic economic views to be much closer to the Republican Party. More importantly than that, he personally subscribed to the internationalist Cold War American role that Truman had first set forth in 1947 and entrusted heavily to General George C. Marshall, to whom Eisenhower directly owed his own fame and stature. Eisenhower served abroad as the first Commander of NATO, the combined allied defense mechanism set up in 1949 to counter Soviet pressure upon Germany and other parts of non-communist Europe. He was an internationalist at a time when Truman's policies made the Democrats an internationalist party. But the Republicans were deeply divided, with an internationalist wing represented mainly in the northeast with Thomas Dewey and Henry Cabot Lodge, plus some mid-westerners led by Michigan's aging Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg. Most of the party after the shattering 1948 presidential defeat of New York's Governor Thomas Dewey, however, was inclined to look to Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft. The mixed isolationist and "China lobby" position-taking by Taft vexed Dwight Eisenhower deeply. So did the rantings of Wisconsin's junior Senator Joseph McCarthy, who demanded MacArthur-styled victory in Asia without regard for its cost in men, money and military materiel and who personally attacked the patriotism and loyalty of General George Marshall for defending a contrary position (Enemies from Within - Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's Accusations of Disloyalty). While serving in Paris with NATO, Eisenhower signaled clearly to Thomas Dewey and other supporters that he would throw his own hat in the ring rather than yield party leadership to such men (Wikipedia, Thomas E. Dewey - 1952 campaign). In June 1952 he resigned the NATO post, returned to the U.S., won the nomination over Taft that summer, and then swept to a decisive personal victory over Democratic nominee Governor Adlai Stevenson of the State of Illinois with the aid of innovative television commercials and personal interviews with the General (The Living Room Candidate - 1952 Eisenhower vs. Stevenson; Eisenhower Archives, 1952 Presidential Campaign; C-SPAN's Presidential Library - Dwight D. Eisenhower > scroll to "Campaign 1952").
Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 also became the first Republican modern president and the first to serve under the term limitation of Amendment XXII. Among the oldest of sitting presidents, he came to symbolize America in the 1950s--an era both held up for ridicule as a period of white bread conformity with a blind eye to national ailments, and idealized later as a time of prosperity at home and confident hegemony abroad (Halberstam 1993). One might expect a mixed post hoc evaluation, and Ike's presidency certainly illustrates that. He was rated 20th or "average" in the 1962 Schlesinger Poll of historians (ratings1 on Schlesinger Poll 1962; notice that he's one slot in front of Andrew Johnson!). A 1970 Dodder Poll of administrative accomplishments similarly scored Eisenhower just 20th (ratings1 on Dodder Poll; and again, he's just in front of Andrew Johnson). That has since changed with a resounding return to high historical rankings. In 1982 two polls had him ranked 9th or 11th of all presidents (ratings1 on Tribune Poll 1982 and Murray Poll 1982; Eisenhower finally escapes association with A. Johnson). Since then he has remained in a top 10 position, close behind his predecessor Truman. The Siena College studies produced between 1982 and 1994 had Eisenhower up to 8th by 1994. He has since remained near that, at 9th place in a CNN Poll of February 2000 (ratings1) and 10th in Siena's 2002 iteration (SRI - Presidential Survey - Aug. 19, 2002). The Wall Street Journal's Federalist Society rating had Ike 9th, close behind Truman at 7th and within their "near-great" category (OpinionJournal - Hail To The Chief). The 2010 summation from Wikipedia shows a composite rating of 8th to 10th for the past decade (Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States - scholar survey results).
The leading work to revise assessment of Ike and coincidentally to assist his post-hoc return to esteem is Fred I. Greenstein's The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader. Published in 1982 early in the Reagan presidency, Greenstein's thesis is that Eisenhower exercised powers through a distinctive and masterful "hidden hand" political strategy of exercising quiet political actions while posturing as the purely apolitical public figure. Both operations and rhetoric were closely coordinated to this end. This work has stood its own test of time extremely well and remains central today to revisionist judgment of Ike as a highly effective modern president with a distinctive style of governance.
The chief objective here will be assessment of Greenstein’s thesis applied to this 34th American president. I will show that Eisenhower could govern with hidden hands in part because the modern administrative presidency made that strategy possible. Greenstein also shows that Eisenhower used presidential rhetoric with strategic intention to veil his many political maneuvers behind a facade of impartiality. That position is strongly corroborated by Martin Medhurst's (1994) study of Eisenhower's rhetoric (Eisenhower Rhetoric). But that ‘hidden hand’ has been given too much credit for its most noted accomplishment--the 1954 downfall of the demagogic junior Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. And on some domestic issues the presidential hands were not hidden but entirely absent. He played a largely passive role on the primary domestic issues of 1950s national politics, especially black civil rights, yielding leadership within Washington's establishment largely to congressional Democrats. Eisenhower cared little about most domestic political concerns associated with the New Deal or with civil rights. Eisenhower was a Cold War president whose principal concern was the maintenance of American international power while avoiding direct war with the rival Soviet superpower. He maintained this primary aim throughout both terms as his energies and health steadily waned. Here the presidential hands were neither absent nor hidden, but quite out in the open.
II. Old Age and the New Calendar Top; Next Down
The Eisenhower presidency went under revised constitutional ground rules which Roosevelt and Truman did not face. The bipartisan Hoover Commission in 1947 proposed a constitutional term limitation to prevent future recurrence of four-term Roosevelt practices. The Republican-dominated 80th Congress approved this. There was extensive and serious sentiment, not alone with Republican conservatives housed in Congress, that the presidency had become too powerful since 1933. The 1948 upset election of FDR’s successor Truman over Dewey in 1948 reinforced that fear. Passage of the amendment required 36 or more of the 48 states. The appearance of black civil rights on the Truman presidential and election agenda of 1948 brought southern white Democrats to a similar conclusion, so southern states came aboard. The result was 1951 ratification of Amendment XXII, creating a term limitation of no more than two full terms of office--or a maximum of "ten consecutive years” (FindLaw U.S. Constitution Twenty-Second Amendment; Wikipedia, Twenty-second Amendment). Where a presidential "lame duck" was once the defeated or retired incumbent serving out the transition, now every second term President automatically becomes ineligible for another term. The fixed tenure creates a new, inherent power limitation on the sitting President. It contributes greatly to Paul Light's well-known observation in The President's Agenda (1991) that presidents are most effective as legislative leaders at first when they know the least, and least effective at the end when they know the most.
Eisenhower did not like it a bit, but could not prevent its enactment (Eisenhower - End of presidency). Amendment XXII conspired with this President’s advanced age and precarious health to spur unfavorable judgments in the immediate aftermath of his 1961 retirement from office. Eisenhower entered office in January 1953 at age 62, in robust health and with mostly stable habits promising a long life. But in 1955 he suffered a coronary with a slow recovery, in 1956 a painful abdominal surgery for ileitis, in November 1957 a stroke, in 1958 a recurrence of abdominal troubles, in 1959 peristalsis with accompanying reliance on oxygen administration, and in 1960 a life-threatening bout with emphysema (Gilbert 1992, 86-117; Lasby 2000; President Dwight Eisenhower Medical History). Ike thought himself perfectly suited to the presidency, and felt few others met the bill. But he was a very tired man by 1960, ready to retire to golf and grandchildren at Gettysburg.
The combined weight of age, health woes, and inherent political weakening from lame duck status profoundly influenced this Presidency. Eisenhower began on a grand note of triumph, winning easily over Stevenson in 1952 despite the latter's considerable political talents. He ended it on largely down notes, lamenting the 1960 failure of summitry after the U-2 downing in the USSR and bitterly interpreting the 1960 Nixon defeat as a personal repudiation (Ambrose 1984, 603-604). These disappointments reflected real limitations and a sense of lost opportunity. It contributed to those low evaluations of Eisenhower in the early post-mortem historians' polls. In 1961 and 1962 the leading historians polled by Schlesinger saw the aged and disappointed late Eisenhower regime, since replaced by the much younger and certainly more charismatic Kennedy White House. That had to influence the preliminary judgments rendered by these men--most of whom were also New Dealers schooled in the politics of the 1930s and 1940s.
Nonetheless this man had remarkable personal qualities. The old notion of his political naivete has been demolished over time by practically every additional inquiry about him. Eisenhower possessed a rare combination of personal intelligence, charm, and toughness. This was not an unschooled field general stumbling into the political arena on lines of General Ulysses Grant. Eisenhower was a wily judge of character, an excellent administrator on balance, and a skillful political conciliator. But these qualities could not overcome the advance of age, or override the inherent calendar-based fact that shortened tenure is a guaranteed reduction of political power over rival centers of influence.
III. Eisenhower the Administrator Top; Next Down
President Eisenhower gets universally good marks today for the way he organized the White House. He was a major contributor to the institutionalized presidency. But he did not start with a blank slate. In 1953 he inherited the means to practice 'hidden hand' politics, and more generally run the executive branch, from the actions of the previous fourteen years. The period from 1939 to 1949 was a watershed of modern executive organization. The Reorganization Plan No. 1 under the Reorganization Act promoted so skillfully by Louis Brownlow in 1939 created the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and also created a White House Office with six professional positions that first year (Warshaw 1996, 24-25; Hart 1995, 30-37). Both developed rapidly in the next decade with assumption of increasingly well-defined policy and functional duties. During the war years the Bureau of the Budget (BOB) was reorganized to assume both programmatic review and budgetary controls over the executive branch for the first time, all this in direct service to the President instead of the Cabinet. BOB also became a managerial clearinghouse. Sidney Milkis saw FDR’s political mastery here, concluding that "the modern presidency that emerged from the executive Reorganization Act was created to chart the course for and direct the voyage to a more liberal America (Milkis 1993, 132)." Harry Truman would inherit and oversee the additional growth of this apparatus, including creation in 1946 of the Council of Economic Advisors and, in 1947, launching of that quintessential Cold War institution known as the National Security Council. In 1953 Eisenhower inherited this apparatus and promptly showed that administrative powers could be wielded by presidents of any ideological stripe, not just liberal ones.
When Eisenhower took office in 1953 the White House professional staff showed 29 positions instead of the meager six listed in 1939. Eisenhower himself contributed the first clearly delineated White House Chief of Staff, conferring great operational and ‘gatekeeping’ authority upon Sherman Adams in that role. For example, Adams commanded patronage appointments despite the long tradition of handling that through party brokers sitting in the Cabinet post office seat (Walcott and Hult 1995, 83-85). He was the first of many formidable power brokers in that post (Warshaw 1996, 28-30; Hart 1995). Adams ruled over a staff which increasingly assumed communications and policymaking specialties but unlike Cabinet posts enjoyed nearly complete immunity from congressional investigation and oversight (Hart 1995, 133-135; on line, see U.S. Presidency Links - Russell D. Renka; once at letter C, look up "Chief of Staff").
Eisenhower is also noted for extensive reliance on formal, military styled Cabinet meetings in which he delegated details of administrative quite extensively. This contributed to the impression of the 1950s and 1960s that others made policy in lieu of the inactive President. In particular, the forceful and bluntly spoken Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was deemed the true architect of most foreign policy. Analysis based on access to White House papers have since proven that this was not true. For example, Eisenhower fully staffed and then personally decided the crucial 1954 refusal to make a direct American troop commitment to relieve the beleaguered French in their losing battle at Dien Bien Phu against the North Vietnamese (Burke and Greenstein 1989; Bowie and Immerman 1998; Bose 1998). As later with the Nixon and Kissinger team, Eisenhower as president was the unquestioned and active final determiner of major foreign policy decisions. Unlike President Reagan later, he was not ill-informed about detail to such an extent that he could fail to recall actions others took in his name--although he did lie publicly to suggest his disengagement from matters where security or personal sensitivities appeared to compel that impression. He chose when and with whom to delegate tasks, and reserved for himself the final and critical decisions.
Eisenhower had plenty of administrative help in place by 1953 for both congressional affairs (creating the first Office of Congressional Relations) and public relations. These were the posts along with top Cabinet positions from which the President’s team took over the undermining of Senator McCarthy culminating in the celebrated Army-McCarthy hearings on live television in late spring of 1954 (Museum.TV, The Army-McCarthy Hearings). To the extent one person was the key organizer, it was the capable White House Press Secretary James Hagerty (Greenstein 1982, 182-212; Reeves 1982, 551-559). Essentially in January through March of 1954, following verbal attacks by the Senator upon an Army general for supposedly harboring subversives on a base under his command, an infuriated Eisenhower had the White House take over and conduct counter-accusations against the Senator in lieu of the Army itself doing so (Eisenhower Library Online Documents, McCarthyism and the "Red Scare"). These accusations showed that the Senator had supported his chief aide Roy Cohn in seeking a variety of privileges on behalf of Cohn’s friend and aide David Schine while Schine was a Private in the Army. This was all done quietly so that White House management of the Army's position could be publicly denied. It was effective enough to help bring about the political death of the Senator in the court of public opinion and in the Senate itself (American Rhetoric: McCarthy-Welch Exchange During the Army-McCarthy Hearings).
IV. The Cold War President Top; Next Down
There had never been serious doubt that Dwight Eisenhower would win the 1952 election after he upset Senator Robert A. Taft to secure for himself the Republican presidential nomination. In November he defeated the capable Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson with 55.2 percent of the nation's popular vote and 442 out of 531 national Electoral College votes (Dave Leip, 1952 Presidential Election). Since 1952 the American National Election Studies have published a quadrennial study of how favorably the public feels toward presidential candidates (NES Table 7.A.1, Average Feelings Toward Presidential Candidates). Eisenhower in 1952 received the highest rating for any candidate of either party for the entire period from 1952 through 2000, save for one. That one was Eisenhower himself, in 1956. That year he won a rematch with Stevenson by elevated margins of 57.4 percent of the popular vote and 457 of 530 Electoral College votes (1956 Presidential Election). These easy victories for the Republican included serious inroads to the south, which otherwise still adhered strictly to one-party Democratic politics within 11 states holding well over 100 College votes in the pre-civil rights 1950s (1952 and 1956 entries compared to 1948, Presidential Election Maps by County).
The very entry of Eisenhower to the 1952 presidential race was based upon Cold War policy. Eisenhower determined as early as 1948 that he would run if he thought there was a serious threat to the internationalist foreign policy launched in Europe during the Truman Administration (Medhurst 1993). Ike assumed that Thomas Dewey would win in 1948 but when he did not, was still satisfied with the fundamental internationalist direction of Truman foreign policy. However, by the approach of 1952 Truman's several weaknesses were in full evidence, leaving Republicans highly optimistic about winning the presidency. But the leading candidate in 1951 was Ohio's Senator Robert A. Taft, known as "Mr. Republican" (Moser 1999). Taft in Eisenhower's view was not the internationalist that former Senator Arthur Vandenberg had been in providing crucial support for the Truman Doctrine and launching of the Marshall Plan in 1947 and 1948 (Pickett 2000, 96). Accordingly, Eisenhower's now-famous hidden hand very quietly signaled that he was available for a 1952 draft. Historian William B. Pickett, who tracked those Eisenhower signals more than forty years later, concluded that the key trigger for Eisenhower was objection to Taft's lack of internationalist conviction (Pickett 2000, 110-111, 119).
The 1952 election thus ensured continuation of Truman's
internationalism in the Cold War 1950s, yet the election issues were in sharp contrast to
Truman's Fair Deal-based 1948 triumph. That election was based heavily
upon who could best manage domestic policy and prevent return of economic
depression. This 1952 affair was not concentrated upon whether to continue
New Deal policy under some other name, as America in 1952 remained prosperous
despite the continuing war in Korea. It assumed by 1952 that domestic
prosperity was America’s natural lot. The dominant issue was conduct of
the Cold War and its domestic component, internal security against subversives.
The aging Joseph Stalin was still the Soviet leader, the Chinese communists
under Mao Zedong had become entrenched on the Asian mainland, the Korean War
dragged on interminably in stalemate between largely American forces on one side
and Chinese on the other. McCarthyism was in full flower as Americans exhibited
high anxiety over internal security against Moscow-directed communists seeking
to subvert the American system. This attitude was exhibited in the 1952
Republican Party Platform, which said of the Democrats and
Truman's seven-plus years in office:
"We charge that they have shielded traitors to the Nation in high places, and that they have created enemies abroad where we should have friends. ... In that time, more than 500 million non-Russian people of fifteen different countries have been absorbed into the power sphere of Communist Russia, which proceeds confidently with its plan for world conquest." (Political Party Platforms - Republican Party Platform of 1952)
The signs of issue shift are abundant in Eisenhower’s easy 1952 victory. Among Catholics, communism was especially loathed, and on that basis the 1952 Republican candidate cut deeply into the 1948 Catholic verdict for the New Deal Democrats. Catholic voters were traditionally close working class adherents to New Deal and Democratic positions, but were also highly responsive to McCarthy or others who appealed on the basis of special vigilance against the subversions and machinations of Moscow. Many of these Catholic voters were also from union households--yet Eisenhower actually won 51 percent of Catholic votes in 1952 whereas Thomas Dewey in 1948 had won only 30 percent (White 1997, 100-101).
The General also cut deeply into southern votes against the Illinois leader, winning 48.9 percent of the vote and 498 counties in the 11-state Old Confederacy (White 1997, 99-100; Presidential Election Maps by County). Stevenson was an anti-communist but he came off a poor second-best for handling Korea and communism in a region with such strong adherence to militarism and anticommunism. McCarthyism made the 1952 campaign intensely unpleasant, as the 1950 midterms had been. Eisenhower avoided any personal blame for this, except in the direct view of outgoing President Harry S. Truman. The ugly campaign tenor was set not by the General himself, who issued bland proclamations save the one dramatic October 1952 statement “I shall go to Korea” (Eisenhower Library: The Korean War from Digital Documents and Photographs Project: Korea+50 including Korea War Photographs). Vice-presidential nominee Richard Nixon, and Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, led the 1952 attack upon Democrats as soft-on-communism types. It cut deeply into white working class votes which once were assured Democratic pillars of support. Gallup polls show that self-labeled “laborers” gave Stevenson 47 percent of the 1952 vote but had conferred a lofty 67 percent to Truman four years earlier (White 1997, 100-101). The American National Election Studies sample of union households gave Thomas Dewey only 19 percent support in 1948, yet in 1952 the more conservative Eisenhower received 44 percent (American National Election Survey [ANES], Presidential Vote 2 Major Parties, by Demographic Group - union households, 1948, 1952).
America was growing, and prosperous, and fearful. That proved a dynamite combination for improving civic participation via election turnout. It rose an astonishing 12.5 million voters over 1948 to 61.8 million in all (1948 Election and 1952 Election). That's about a 25 percentage point jump in participation. The chief beneficiary that was the General, not Democratic candidate Stevenson. It made the Republicans optimistic that history was on their side for a change.
The General's first order of presidential business for 1953 was reaching a Korean armistice. Eisenhower did that promptly with less than subtle reminders to the Chinese that America had a nuclear arsenal and the Chinese did not (Armistice Agreement for the Restoration of the South Korean State (July 27, 1953); Our Documents - Armistice 1953). This practice was later trumpeted by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles during the 1956 election as "brinksmanship," the celebrated willingness to step closer to the edge of disaster than an adversary could bear, and thereby facing down the enemy in this international game of chicken ("brinksmanship" or brinkmanship - Answers.com; Wolk 2003, The "New Look"). The 1953 reality was not direct brinksmanship against another nuclear power who could play the same game--the Soviet Union. It was used against the non-nuclear People's Republic of China. But it looked the part to Dulles and others who saw communism as one international entity that transcended national capitals and was directed ultimately from Joseph Stalin's Moscow. In any case, Eisenhower’s famous promise to go to Korea contributed to the July 1953 armistice dividing Korea at the 38th Parallel, and the first protracted Cold War Asian land war was finally brought to a close 37 months after North Korea had invaded the South.
Eisenhower formally decided to rely upon Air Force strategic bombers as the primary nuclear deterrent against communist states. The nation in November 1952 had successfully tested a deliverable successor to the Manhattan Project's atomic bomb that outranked its destructive force by an order of magnitude (The American Experience--Race for the Superbomb - Mike Test). The H-bomb's development elevated the sense of peril but also allowed an imperial state to avoid the ruinous costs of an enormous conventional arms military (Perret 1999, 449-460; Race for the Superbomb - John Lewis Gaddis, on Eisenhower's Economics and the Bomb). From the start, Eisenhower worried over how to wring costs out of the rapidly growing postwar military and its industrial support system. By giving license to Curtis LeMay's Strategic Air Command to develop comprehensive targeting of Soviet military assets in advance, the Administration could launch "a preemptive strike, not a preventive war but a preemptive strike against Soviet nuclear capability." (David Alan Rosenberg on U.S. Planning for a Soviet Nuclear Attack). The nuclear arms race got truly underway; atmospheric testing of massive bombs took hold in both U.S. and U.S.S.R. (Mood, Known Nuclear Tests in the United States and Soviet Union, 1945-1959; NRDC Nuclear Data - Table of Known Nuclear Tests Worldwide, 1945-1996). The Navy similarly got license to develop nuclear deterrence via submarines (Perret 1999). As well, the President began the high altitude aircraft U-2 overflight program of Soviet air space in these pre-satellite days to ensure some observational capacity against any Soviet first-strike possibilities (Beschloss 1988). All this was meant to prevent the catastrophe of another Pearl Harbor-like strike, at acceptable cost.
Concurrently, Ike and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles defined the enduring "domino theory" to say that communist aggression in one country inevitably endangered and ultimately would topple its neighbors. Eisenhower explained this rationale in an April 1954 press conference (Domino Theory Principle, Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 7, 1954; Eisenhower Articulates the Domino Theory, 1954). The bomb and its strategic threat-value would presumably give the enemy enough pause to prevent that catastrophe, too.
In no more than a year, Eisenhower faced another decision on direct American participation in Asian land war, this time after the 1954 defeat of French arms by the Vietnamese in Dien Bien Phu. The U.S. had previously supported the French position through financial subsidy, but now the question became direct military intervention. American positioning at the Geneva conference of 1954 resulted in the nation's commitment to a separate South Vietnam with division at the 17th parallel, but Eisenhower avoided direct American troop commitments on grounds that the French position could not be saved. The South Vietnamese regime became an American client state hard upon the departure of France from a century of imperial occupation of Indochina (Eisenhower to Ngo Dinh Diem, President of the Council of Ministers of Vietnam, October 23, 1954). Unlike the sea-surrounded Korean 38th parallel with its demilitarized "no man's land," this geographic division was easily transcended. But Eisenhower's sending of American advisors helped produce a cessation of outright war even while the North easily put in place an apparatus of support based on the Viet Cong. It also created a heavily dependent ally which lacked the core support of its own people--and ultimately that became a failed regime (Anderson 1991). By then, Eisenhower was retired to his Gettysburg farm.
This was the domino theory's acting partner, a politics of containment to keep the Reds within their existing territory and deny them any further expansion. Imperial behavior became standard fare. Such line-drawing against the Reds prevailed across the globe and by various means, including the CIA-directed overthrow of the leftist Mosaddeq regime in Iran in 1954, protection of the Kuomintang nationalist China regime in Taiwan against Mao's regime on the mainland, overthrows of Central American left-leaning governments, intervention against Soviet-supported factions in the former Belgian Congo in Africa, and a gradually hardening opposition to Fidel Castro's Cuban regime following his 1958 revolutionary takeover against a corrupt Batista regime with close associations to American organized crime in Havana (National Security Archives - Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran; Guatemala '54). America supported almost any regime that would fight communists and spurn Soviet assistance. The CIA by 1953 did regular daily briefings of presidents, and with Ike had broad license to engage in covert operations abroad (NS Archives, Chapter 2 -- Truman and Eisenhower: Launching the Process). The rhetorical "free world" term was very loosely applied indeed to the many emergent non-white former colonial entities that swelled United Nations ranks during the 1950s.
Cold War politics with Eisenhower was not hidden-hand politics. These were frank assertions of American power, and they largely drew bipartisan support in Congress when and where the Administration deemed it necessary to consult them. There was certainly a covert side to American power, including Central Intelligence Agency-assisted coups against leftist governments in Nicaragua and Iran. But the greater part was conducted in the same manner as earlier and later presidents did, largely through asserting the combined economic and military power of the United States in numerous venues, while at home issuing rhetorical explanations of the fundamental premises and direction of the objective to contain the Soviets to their existing spheres of influence.
V. Rhetoric, Popularity, and the McCarthy Challenge to Moral Leadership Top; Next Down
The public presidency was as well established by 1953 as the administrative presidency was. Eisenhower as military leader understood well the role of public rhetoric. Oddly, he was deeply self-constrained in using the presidency for rhetorical leadership. In his first year he studiously avoided opportunities to employ the bully pulpit openly as a political weapon despite open shows of disdain by the junior Senator from Wisconsin Joseph McCarthy. The public half of the hidden hand prescribed that partisan name-calling was always counterproductive. Here we consider how well this strategic view of rhetoric worked for the President.
Eisenhower’s presidential communications were handled differently than Roosevelt, Truman, or those who followed Ike. Unlike FDR and Truman he was exceedingly skeptical of appeals to partisan public opinion, and largely restricted his direct or formal addresses to relatively nonpartisan topics. Atoms for Peace, Open Skies, restraint on defense spending, keeping a balanced budget, warnings against the power of a military-industrial complex--these drew Eisenhower statements which blended frequent platitudes with trenchant statements on how to "wage peace." By contrast, the elementary partisan and ideological divisions in America--civil rights, McCarthyism, the New Deal--were carefully avoided by Eisenhower when speaking publicly. Eisenhower relied on "instrumental" over personally directed language (Greenstein 1982, 66-72). One facet was a strict rule not to engage in personal name-calling, no matter the provocation (Medhurst, Eisenhower Rhetoric). Another was that the same Eisenhower who wrote in precisely measured tones would frequently resort to highly convoluted and sometimes indecipherable ramblings. His famous obfuscations at press conferences, and studied avoidance of direct personal attacks naming Joseph McCarthy despite extreme provocations, were both deliberate attempts to preserve room for maneuvering quietly and behind the scenes. This was a man at home with the veiled threat and oblique reference, exactly unlike the blunt and direct public rhetoric of Harry Truman. Eisenhower’s style reflected his distinctive view of the office and of political life in general. His trenchant disdain for partisan extremists, for professional politicians, for divisive McCarthy-styled demagoguery, was expressly often and colorfully in the private communications by Ike--but these rarely if ever leaked out during his presidency. Why did Eisenhower employ this distinctive style?
One critical reason was ethos, the character of the speaker (Ethos from Brian Moore's ASU Freshman English Online Manual; Medhurst 1994; Bose and Greenstein 2002). That quality of respect and credibility launched the General onto the presidential stage in the first place. Eisenhower began his presidency differently than others. Save for George Washington, no other new chief executive began with the public adulation and respect in which Eisenhower was held. Eisenhower viewed his public popularity and credibility as the one indispensable asset a leader could never afford to forfeit. He also possessed a genuine personal disdain for the political backbiting which flourished so greatly in the 1950 midterm congressional campaign. Consequently, he was exceedingly cautious about employing sharp-edged partisan rhetoric in his own first year as President or in the preceding 1952 campaign (Medhurst 2001). That was left to the combative young vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon, architect of the televised Checkers speech (PBS, Richard Nixon). What Roosevelt sought to build with partisan rhetoric, namely an approving majority fashioned around himself and his policies, Eisenhower thought he already had. Where Truman damaged his own job approval with sharp and bitter rhetoric, Eisenhower meant to take an opposite tack.
He was proven right by the criterion of presidential approval ratings. Eisenhower enjoyed job approval ratings above all other postwar presidents dating back to earliest systematic use of these standard measurements in the Truman period. The central job approval question from the Gallup Poll and its several relatives is: "Do you approve or disapprove of the job President _______ is handling his job as president?" Truman suffered through an abysmal full term 1949-53 averaged approval of 36%; in 1952 his best of seven poll results was 32% approval to 55% disapproval. Eisenhower by contrast averaged a lofty 65 percent to less than half as many who disapproved, over two full terms (Roper Center, Presidential Job Performance - Eisenhower; Ike1 and Ike2). His single worst poll result in eight years was 48% approval to 36% disapproval amidst the economic recession of spring 1958 (King and Ragsdale 1988, 295-298). He was consistently popular in nearly equal measures with young and old, men and women, educated and uneducated, in all regions of the nation (Ragsdale 1996, Ch. 5). Although Franklin Roosevelt came along before this standardized measure existed, even he probably did not fare so well for so long. No successor to Ike has done so, and only Kennedy came close. Dwight Eisenhower started with a lot a capital assets in the bank, and kept them intact for a long time. He delegated to Vice-President Nixon the unpleasant chores of partisan campaign rhetoric, and kept his own hands publicly clean. Avoidance of sharp partisan rhetoric was a large part of this successful approval formula.
Problem is, the poker-playing Eisenhower did not convince the compulsive gambler Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin that his leadership was authentic. Greenstein says the President’s hidden hand orchestrated a series of moves which finally brought down McCarthy in summer of 1954 (Greenstein 1982, ch. 5). How well did Eisenhower employ his public communications strategy to undermine and eventually destroy Joseph McCarthy?
Very well, by Greenstein's reckoning, albeit with fits and starts (Greenstein 1982, ch. 5). Hardly at all, according to Eisenhower's biographer Stephen Ambrose, with the single great exception of very forceful public assertions of the doctrine known as executive privilege (Ambrose 1984, 189; Greenstein 1982, 203-205). Eisenhower's own view, held so firmly that in writing memoirs he heatedly declined even to allot space to McCarthy, was that McCarthy would fade away politically so long as the president refused to collaborate in giving McCarthy the spotlight of national media attention (Eisenhower 1965). And the best presidential tack to accomplish that was for the President to carefully refrain from any personal attacks on McCarthy. Eisenhower's brother and close advisor Milton Eisenhower disagreed with him on this tactic, but Ike would not budge from it (Eisenhower Memorial 2004, Ike, Milton, and the McCarthy Battle). Eisenhower critics among Democrats and on the non-radical left, including most early 1960s judges such as the influential political scientist Richard Neustadt and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., declared Ike's silence an abdication which allowed McCarthy too long and lurid a period of political preeminence.
Here the critics have the better case. Eisenhower's long avoidance of a public moral confrontation with McCarthy was an important lost opportunity. The President probably would have paid a serious price in his precious political capital--but that is what such capital is for. This is hindsight wisdom, but very few can dispute that McCarthy did a great deal of damage and cost Eisenhower dearly in 1953 and 1954. McCarthy and his chief assistant Roy Cohn destroyed numerous careers in the Department of State and its Voice of America on Ike's watch, casting an atmosphere of fear and loathing which has nicely lent itself to leftist critics of America ever since. In any case, Eisenhower failed to remove McCarthy from the headlines by keeping his silence (Museum.TV, Army-McCarthy Hearings). Essentially, Eisenhower in 1954 resorted to hidden hand politics to help undermine McCarthy only after the miserable failure of all 1953 efforts to ignore McCarthy and hope he would fade from the newspaper and television headlines. And ultimately, a very public condemnation of the Senator from Army counsel Joseph Welch did the most to expose the Senator's abusive methods ("No Sense of Decency" YouTube 7:18 video - exchange of Welch with McCarthy, 6.9.1954 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAur_I077NA; video and text - American Rhetoric: McCarthy-Welch Exchange During the Army-McCarthy Hearings; full print transcript - "Have You No Sense of Decency": The Army-McCarthy Hearings; Lawrence 6/9/1954, Welch Assails McCarthy's 'Cruelty' And 'Recklessness' In Attack On Aide; Senator, On Stand, Tells Of Red Hunt, New York Times; U.S. Senate Historical Minutes 1941-1963: Have You No Sense of Decency). He dropped precipitously in public opinion polls, paving McCarthy's way to Senate censure, alcoholism, and ultimately death within three years (Wikipedia, Joseph McCarthy - Public Opinion).
Eisenhower did not fully understand or respect the emergent power of television to amplify a president's words. Moral leadership demands risk-taking when the target is politically powerful. Edward R. Murrow did understand that medium's moral leadership potential and condemned McCarthy forcefully on air in a 9 March 1954 "See It Now" episode run nationally by CBS (Edward R. Murrow, See it Now (CBS-TV, March 9, 1954); Edward R. Murrow on McCarthy - March 9, 1954; McCarthy reply on 6 April 1954 - American Rhetoric Joseph McCarthy - Prosecution of Edward R. Murrow on CBS Television's "See It Now"; YouTube - No Sense Of Decency: A Documentary). That was a very effective precursor to Welch's condemnation, as McCarthy's Gallup Poll approval dropped fast even before Welch condemned him (Wikipedia, Joseph McCarthy - Public Opinion from March to June 1954.). All the while President Eisenhower avoided any direct comment on the Senator.
Bland pieties in public, colorful swearing in private. From the beginning, Eisenhower’s deliberate public avoidance of naming names fooled few in the press or among Washington professionals. If anything, obfuscation led Ike to undercut his own message, that one could root out subversives without resort to McCarthy's abusive methods. So did his occasional actions to appease McCarthy by posturing as more rigidly vigilant about security risks than the master himself. For instance, an 11 November 1953 press conference (one of 189 in Eisenhower's eight years) dwelt directly with Attorney General Brownell's public suggestion that President Truman had known of yet did nothing about the communist background of a mid-level State Department appointment named Harry Dexter White (Oshinsky 1983, 347-350; Greenstein 1982, 178-181). Eisenhower’s famous press conference obfuscations did not rescue him this time, for he was directly asked how he could accuse his predecessor of harboring a known communist. He responded lamely that he was taking his Attorney General’s word on this (Ambrose 1984, 139). It was not televised. Former President Truman responded that this was the White House version of McCarthyism, “this evil at every level of our national life.” He did so on national television (Ambrose 1984, 140). McCarthy demanded and got free national television time to respond to Truman while the White House stayed on the sidelines to the surprise of television executives. Instead of hitting Truman, McCarthy fired directly at the White House, accusing them of yielding to China while it tortured American prisoners of war (Oshinsky 1983, 349-350; Fried 1997, 182–184). Eisenhower was on McCarthy's turf by McCarthy rules, and naturally the last and most telling words belonged to the Senator.
Thus vanished a chance to strike a moral blow in defense of democratic standards of decent political discourse. Rhetoric is indispensable to the modern president in setting down a position of moral responsibility for maintaining democratic standards. Eisenhower lost another moral leadership opportunity as well, but here the circumstances were profoundly different than those with McCarthy. That issue was civil rights, triggered by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (347 US 483) landmark case in which the unanimous Supreme Court voted 8-0 to outlaw legal segregation by race. Never once in his presidency did Eisenhower convey a serious message that he understood the urgency or moral imperative associated with civil rights. The reasons for this are fundamentally different from his silence on McCarthyism. Eisenhower loathed McCarthy and his ilk, damning them often and colorfully in private, leaving little doubt he could have done that job skillfully enough in public. But with civil rights, he was genuinely sympathetic with the go-slow or no-go southern view, and it showed consistently in his limited statements avoiding any endorsement of the Brown decision (even as he promised to enforce the law). Eisenhower was wise indeed to avoid public declarations of his real feelings about legislating an end to Jim Crow law. Historical judgment would otherwise have been most unkind to the General.
There was an expedient political reason for Eisenhower’s civil rights silence as well. A political party coalition can expand by picking at the weakest points in the opposition party. The majority Democratic party’s weak point was the monolithically white, Democratic and racially resistant South where the ringing civil rights declaration of the 1948 Democratic national platform had so alienated black-belt segregationist southerners that several states bolted Truman in favor of segregationist Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (Lawrence 1997, 55-75; Key 1949, ch. 15). Northern blacks had moved heavily to the New Deal Democrats by 1936 but were far from monolithic in party voting. Race was so sensitive a cutting point that a 1950s GOP still in the running for black votes could not afford public overtures to racial segregationists. Silence on the public level could mask forging of a coalition across party and geographic constraints at a quiet level.
Eisenhower wanted to harvest the South for his party. He had actually won Texas in 1952, the first to do so since Hoover in 1928 and only the second since reconstruction (Texas Politics - The Rise of the Republican South in Presidential Politics). He counted mostly Southern Democrats among the few Democrats he admired, either personally or politically. Contrary to the notion of nonpartisanship, Ike deeply wanted the Republicans to be a nationwide majority party. Eisenhower forged his own decisive 1952 electoral majority, and a larger one in 1956, partly with a breakthrough in southern voting. For the first time in modern history, a mainstream Republican won nearly as many popular votes in the Old Confederacy as the Democrat. Four of those eleven states, with 57 Electoral College votes, went to Ike in 1952. The same four plus Louisiana (67 votes in all) did it again in 1956. This was a virtually all-white voting electorate in these pre-voting rights days. Eisenhower took the message that the Republican Party had a moderate future majority in keeping to this tack. He blamed Nixon's 1960 defeat partly on Republican pro-civil rights positions, saying "promising a Negro [in the Cabinet] cost us thousands of votes in the South, maybe South Carolina and Texas" (Ambrose 1984, 604). Eisenhower was one of many Republicans who would concede the civil rights issue to the Democrats in the 1960s.
Presidential history is made by thoroughly mining the thick gold veins of leftover documents from each administration. Greenstein did this with great effect to disprove that Eisenhower was passive and disengaged. Eisenhower kept a deliberate silence on civil rights for both personal and strategic political reasons. Behind the bland and platitude-driven Eisenhower rhetoric was quite an active Eisenhower campaign to bring down Senator McCarthy. The outward appearance of being divorced from the nastier and more raw aspects of partisan politicking did enhance Eisenhower's objective of keeping his presidential approval intact. He was supremely successful, and this in an era of increasingly middle class American culture with a close adherence to the progressives’ disdain for purely political behavior. Anyone familiar with contemporary public views of parties, partisanship, and "politics" in its more divisive strains will recognize that a President must be careful to avoid looking too political (Keefe 1994, 10-15). But Eisenhower's husbanding of rhetorical capital looks now like a serious forfeiture. He was bland and dissembling when a sharp and well-aimed volley appealing to American standards of fairness and honor could have contributed greatly to a hastened downfall of McCarthy.
Eisenhower fully understood the opportunity modern presidents have for well-crafted rhetorical messages. He called his own biography Waging Peace (1965), a suited metaphor for avoiding nuclear war while enjoining an epic contest for international economic and military hegemony. He spoke persistently and forcefully for control of nuclear power in responsible hands. His 1961 Farewell Address accurately stated that peacetime upkeep of a huge and permanent military was something new to the nation, that it came at great expense to domestic welfare without contributing enough to the nation’s economy in its own right, and that a permanent military-industrial complex had arisen with a fixed interest in keeping up an armaments race with the USSR for its own purposes (text, Farewell Radio and Television Address to the American People, January 17, 1961; audio, American Rhetoric Dwight D. Eisenhower -- Farewell Address; video with commentary, Video About Eisenhower Farewell Address - Encyclopedia.com). Suppose he never made this Address? Would that omission be viewed as a loss now? Surely in Eisenhower’s own judgment it would signify that this issue was given less than the paramount importance it warranted. And so also for public words of moral leadership when McCarthyism or civil rights were at stake.
VI. Hidden Legislative Hands Top; Next Down
Greenstein’s 'hidden hand' is essentially a legislative managerial strategy based on the premise that political manipulation is distasteful to the public but indispensable to managing national affairs. Therefore the necessary politicking is best done with stealth, to which rhetorical silence and obfuscations make a contribution. Eisenhower was an active presidential manager of events and people who masterfully but quietly stage-managed the dramatic 1954 downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Eisenhower did not successfully undercut McCarthy by 'going public' with an effective rhetorical strategy. To Greenstein, a serious hidden hand strategist did not have to do that. Instead he employed stealthy influence within the Congress to vanquish McCarthy--and get his own legislative program passed.
Two problems show themselves in reviewing Ike's hidden hand. The first is that Eisenhower began 1953 with barely a legislative program of his own at all. That conceded chief initiative to others, including the leading member of the far right faction among Senate Republicans (which held a very narrow majority of 48 to 47 seats, with one independent). The second is that McCarthy simply could not be cowed into cooperation no matter what Eisenhower did. So eventually, the ‘hidden hand’ was deployed as a latter-hour tactic to help ensure McCarthy's demise. It finally helped bring off the Senator’s public disgrace and fall from popularity, but this accomplishment is far short of giving Eisenhower an effective legislative presidency.
The President certainly recognized that the McCarthy problem diverted the Senate away from enacting the President's legislative program (Greenstein 1982, 182). But in 1953 there was not much domestic program to lose. Eisenhower was no ideological liberal bent on furtherance of another 'New Deal' or "Fair Deal' or some other name to attach to legislative proposals. Neither was he an 80th Congress-styled conservative bent on systematically rolling back the New Deal; he saw those who still insisted upon that as doing a fool's errand. On domestic policy he cared strongly for only one type of thing, for which his long military experience prepared him. He wanted a better system of national transportation in the United States. His 1941 experience in command of the Army's efforts to prepare for war, convinced him that American highways were a nightmarish barrier to transport of troops and material. His 1945 and postwar experience with the excellent German autobahn and rail systems reinforced the point. Other issues--of labor rights and the minimum wage, of civil rights, of social security and medical care, of unemployment, environmental failures--all were peripheral to his experience and sense of priority. Besides, he was a fiscal conservative, in the sense of always seeking to restrain increases in spending. This is no portfolio for a legislative activist. It is not accident that the two biggest domestic legislative enterprises for which Eisenhower gets direct credit, are initiation of the interstate highway system (Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956) and fostering of the St. Lawrence Seaway system (Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System - History).
Eisenhower sought so little from Congress--an institution he never understood well and barely respected except in the traditional 'constitutional deference' civics-book sense--that he took far more actions defending his administration against others' policy actions than in promoting his own. Granted that he scored highly by a standard Congressional Quarterly measure known as the ‘batting average’ (measured as a percentage of presidential wins on roll call floor votes where the President takes a public position) with an 83 percent success rate his first year. That figure is deceptive, first because Ike played defense more than offense, opting to curb initiatives of others; and Congress is famously better at blocking a policy than at passing one. Secondly, Eisenhower is unusual among modern presidents for a near-complete lack of serious domestic policy ambitions. He sought neither to roll back the New Deal nor to ambitiously expand it, leaving himself free to tell Congress little while reacting to legislative actions that might swerve too far left or right.
The President’s greatest policy focus was on Cold War foreign policy, 'waging peace' in his terms (Bowie and Immerman 1998). Some of that policy bypassed congressional floor voting participation, since bipartisanship had been put in place during the Truman years. But the pre-Eisenhower national Republican Party was very much a creature of Congress. Therefore its leaders promoted congressional curbs on executive power. The isolationist wing of the party did not disappear with Ike's election, either. Senator John Bricker of Ohio was among those stalwarts. His Bricker Amendment was introduced in 1953 to amend the U.S. Constitution's Article VI provision making treaties the supreme law of the land. Section 3 of Bricker would specify that “(A) treaty shall become effective as internal law in the United States only through enactment of appropriate legislation by the Congress.” (Congress and the Nation, 1945-1964; 110) In other words, a treaty could not have force of law inside the country unless the lawmakers already had enacted legislation of identical effect. A Roosevelt action such as the 1941 'lend-lease' of American equipment to Great Britain, would no longer escape direct congressional review. This Eisenhower correctly saw as undermining the President’s foreign policy authority. He vehemently opposed it from the outset in 1953 (Ambrose 1984, 68-70) and again in early 1954 (Ambrose 1984, 154-155; Congress and the Nation, 1945-1964,110-113). The Bricker Amendment fell to narrow defeat despite starting life with more than 60 cosponsors among the 96 members of the U.S. Senate (TIME Magazine -- The Bricker Amendment: A Cure Worse Than The Disease? -- Jul. 13, 1953). There is little doubt this measure would have cleared Congress for national consideration but for the adamant resistance of the President.
When this President badly wanted something, he usually got it. Eisenhower budged Bricker’s support in 1953--but hardly budged Joseph McCarthy at all. McCarthy was a special case. Throughout 1953 Senator McCarthy systematically challenged the new Republican administration's prerogatives in conducting foreign and national security affairs, including its internal anticommunism personnel program. The special target of McCarthy and other congressional Republicans was the Department of State. Republicans in 1953 held the presidency for the first time in 20 years, so Senators like McCarthy and John Bricker habitually sought congressional power at expense of the executive. They also assumed that all executive departments were dominated by careerist New Deal Democrats, and in State's case, with the Yalta Agreement and other decisions which allowed expansion of Soviet power and China's move to communism. But McCarthy took his attacks well beyond State, launching an obviously disdainful confrontation against the new Republican chief executive.
Eisenhower tried deploying Vice-President Richard Nixon on ad hoc missions to negotiate some compromises with the Senator. He also developed an amicable relationship with the able conservative Senate Majority Leader Robert A. Taft. On occasion, like nominee Charles Bohlen (whose sin was presence at Yalta in 1945), the compromises worked. In the longer run, they failed.
Eisenhower was also handicapped by a leadership vacuum among Senate Republicans. Taft died in mid-1953 and bequeathed the Majority Leader's post to William Knowland, a McCarthy ally, presidential hopeful, and active candidate for this century’s most inept congressional leader (Loomis 1991). Eisenhower was personally so vexed with Knowland that the White House legislative office gave up on him and worked instead through other Senate mediators (U.S. Senate Leaders - William Knowland, The Forgotten Leader).
The year went well for preserving the President's job approval and prestige. Eisenhower's Gallup job approval rating remained in the 60s all year long except one November dip to 57 percent, which after the December 8 'Atoms for Peace' speech rose again to a lofty 69 percent against only 22 percent disapproval (Edwards with Gallup 1990, 13-14). But McCarthy was literally in the 1953 news as much as the President himself. A president is not the only one who can command public attention for policy and political purposes. And a president who eschews this method, yields it to others with less self-restraint. In ‘going public,’ the president has major advantages over all others, but does not hold the stage alone.
Eisenhower went to exceptional lengths to placate McCarthy in 1953. He permitted Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to hire a well-known McCarthy loyalist as State's security chief, from which post he routinely informed McCarthy of everything he learned. And when McCarthy's chief aide Roy Cohn ran about Europe with his young assistant G. David Schine to attack Voice of America library holdings, Dulles and Eisenhower were spectators along with the horrified European free press to exercises in book burning (Reeves 1982, 488-491; von Hoffman 1988, 138-161). In 1953 there was no Eisenhower hidden hand at work against McCarthy.
There was one in 1954. The famous Army-McCarthy hearings, which eventually brought McCarthy down by the end of 1954, were carefully planned by the White House instead of the Department or General Counsel offices of the Army. The critical period was January through March 1954. On January 21, Army General Counsel John Adams told the top three Eisenhower political strategists that McCarthy's investigative committee director Roy Cohn had spent the last six months obtaining a variety of special privileges for Cohn's close friend and committee compatriot, G. David Schine. Cohn's bizarre behavior, to which McCarthy was a secondary party, led to a White House-coordinated compilation by the Army of a thick and very damning dossier of charges against McCarthy (Greenstein 1982, 182-187; Reeves 1982, 493-508, 509-559; Oshinsky 1983, 363). Meanwhile Eisenhower was desperately hoping to avoid letting McCarthy get wind of security questions about the atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer (Ambrose 1984, 166-167; Goodchild 1981, ch. 15). When McCarthy instead hit a very small target--a dentist at an Army base with a left-wing history--he lit publicly into the base commander in a unique display of brutal browbeating under the aegis of legislative investigations of security breaches in the executive branch. Eisenhower finally exploded into action with one positive action, and one negative.
The positive action in March 1954 was to launch the very public Army-McCarthy hearings with charges against McCarthy permitting Roy Cohn to pressure the Army into privileged treatment of its draftee Schine in exchange for avoidance of more McCarthy investigations aimed at that branch of the uniformed services (C-SPAN's The Army/McCarthy Hearings). The negative action was to stop McCarthy's continuous subpoena-based inquisitions of executive conduct. The President did that with the old but then rarely-used constitutional doctrine known as executive privilege (Executive privilege - Wikipedia). From Eisenhower this doctrine claimed an inherent presidential right to keep private the conversations and related documents inside the executive branch which are necessary to the conduct of sensitive business, including questions of national security and diplomacy.
The formal basis for McCarthy's power, as chairman of a Senate investigative committee, was the power of subpoena over members of the executive branch. Eisenhower in February and March 1954 had Attorney General Herbert Brownell research the president's traditional 'executive privilege' power to refuse congressional demands for direct testimony, personnel records, or other sensitive information from officers of the executive branch (Ambrose 1984, 186-189, 619-620; Congressional Research Service, April 16, 2008 - Presidential Claims of Executive Privilege). On 17 May 1954 Eisenhower personally refused to have any political appointee of the administration testify "as to the advice he gave" the president, making clear that he would fire any violator by nightfall the same day. That order took the form of a message from President to Secretary of Defense (Reeves 1982, 617). Senators of both parties protested loudly at so broad a claim of privilege, but Eisenhower angrily and forcefully made it stick.
This was a display of public resolve for dual purpose. On one hand, it made clear that the White House meant to bring a decisive end to McCarthy's investigative forays, if the Senate itself would not do so. On the other, it was necessary to conceal the single most important component of the anti-McCarthy 'hidden hand', namely a 21 January 1954 meeting in which White House Chief of Staff Sherman Adams himself suggested the Army compile a full dossier on the Cohn-Schine misbehavior (Reeves 1982, 537). By declaring the doctrine so broadly, the specific January meeting became secondary in interest to the general challenge (which perhaps fits with "hidden hand" politics rather well). It was the most extensive single invocation of a presidential right to refuse information to Congress ever given up to that point. It was an important precursor to the major institutional conflict over this power twenty years later during the Watergate scandal in 1973 and 1974. (See U.S. Presidency Links - Russell D. Renka at subheading of "Executive Privilege"; and for its history from Kennedy through George W. Bush, see Congressional Research Service, April 16, 2008 - Presidential Claims of Executive Privilege).
Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose labeled this the single most important thing Eisenhower did to undercut McCarthy in the 18 months of the latter's reign (Ambrose 1984, 189). That verdict bears repeating, for McCarthy had successfully defied all previous Eisenhower attempts to assuage, control, or bypass the Senator throughout 1953 and early 1954. Several White House aides worked intensively to undercut him during the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, as did several Senators including the Democrats’ Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson (Greenstein 1982, 184). Both sides successfully concealed the true extent of their involvement from the public and Congress at the time. But the real coup de grace was meanwhile self-administered by the Senator, through McCarthy's own repeated abusive treatments of all around him, on national television at a time when 55% of American households had a television (Barone 1990, 268-270; C-SPAN's The Army/McCarthy Hearings). A contribution by the White House toward this demise was to insist that hearings not be ended without full testimony from Army counsel John Adams. As a result, the public record of McCarthy aide Roy Cohn seeking to gain special privileges from the Army for David Schine was damning. All that was done by the White House via hidden hands.
The key to McCarthy's downfall was that his public support steadily slipped during the Army-McCarthy hearings because of the Senator's repeatedly caustic abuses toward committee witnesses, fellow senators, the Army, the White House, and President Eisenhower (Reeves 1982, 595-637; Oshinsky 1983, 457-71; Barone 1990, 268-270). After 36 days of nationally televised hearings, on June 9 McCarthy attacked Army Counsel Joseph Welch on live television by impeaching the person of a Welch law partner. He received a most memorable remonstrance, culminating in the famous Welch invocation: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" (Reeves 1982, 631; Welch's denunciation of Senator McCarthy; Have You No Sense of Decency: The Army-McCarthy Hearings). The denunciation earned wide applause in the room and out. McCarthy had become by far the most effective possible witness against himself. The White House role in this was largely peripheral (Ambrose 1984, 186-189); it was much more substantial to Greenstein; but neither denies that this is the core reason for McCarthy's end.
In December 1954, the Senator endured a formal censure by a 67 to 22 vote of the Senate. The White House stood by alertly and quietly as the Senate punished one of its own for abusing his fellow Members (American History Documents II - The Senate Censure of Joseph McCarthy).
VII. Conclusion Top
Despite my conclusion that the hidden hand is overstated, it still contributed a great deal to understanding how the third modern president conducted his affairs. The paper trails revealed by Greenstein and others sifting through the mountain of Eisenhower presidential documents have contributed to a major reinterpretation of this president. As a method of inquiry, document searches caution us firmly against too-early judgment of a politician clever enough to hide his moves behind a bland and nonpartisan facade as Eisenhower usually did. White House orchestration of negative publicity on McCarthy was certainly more extensive than earlier scholars knew (Greenstein 1982, 182-218). Every student of the presidency recognizes the central importance of strategic agenda-setting, and the Army-McCarthy hearing rates high as illustration of executive management behind the scenes. The President was far more active than he permitted the nation to recognize at the time, for strategic reasons which make sense from the standpoint of preserving a favorable public image of being aloof from the low politicking side of the presidential office. Eisenhower was not an earlier version of President Reagan’s minimalist approach to the managerial aspects of the chief executive office. He was an active, engaged, and hands-on executive officer.
Greenstein also offers a useful analysis of both benefits and shortfalls of this distinctive way of managing a presidency.
Eisenhower, as we saw from the outset, was unique for his special ethos and
prestige at the start (Greenstein 2004, 43-57). It is not, however, an adequate substitute for the vigorous use of the
rhetorical presidency. Greenstein now assesses Eisenhower rhetoric that way
(Greenstein 2004, 54-55). Neither is it sustainable as a longer run general strategy for later presidents who would
seek far more ambitious legislative agendas than Eisenhower did.
Greenstein also emphasizes this since only Eisenhower's colossal personal ethos
and background made this strategy feasible for him. Thus "it is better
suited for a national icon than a garden variety politician" (Greenstein 2004, 56). Kennedy and Johnson after
Eisenhower made practically no resort to the hidden hand. They went straight to the source of congressional
majority power--the party leaderships. Where the party leadership could not deliver the votes and agenda
management to ensure passage of the president’s programs, the White House
organized itself to accomplish those jobs through executive administration.
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 The House passed the amendment by 285-121 on February 6, 1947, exceeding the two-thirds requirement due to a solid 238-0 Republican count. The Senate followed on March 12 with a 59-23 endorsement, bolstered by a 46-0 Republican count. The amendment itself went into effect on February 27, 1951. It effectively ensures that no one can win more than two terms. A Vice President who succeeds to the office cannot serve more than ten consecutive years. Thus an interim presidency cannot exceed two years for one to win two terms of his or her own. See Congress and the Nation, 1945-1964, pp. 1434-1435.
 More than fifty years later, brinksmanship remains in play at the same 38th Parallel of Korea. See Buckley 2003, BBC NEWS Asia-Pacific N Korea's nuclear brinksmanship.
1954 campaign against McCarthy is now well-documented with on line source
The Army/McCarthy Hearings. Also see the Eisenhower Library's documents at
McCarthyism or Red Scare.
The latter shows the
sixthdraft -DDE - WI campaign speech in which the 1952 Republican nominee heeded pleas from Wisconsin politicians
to delete an passage that expressly criticized McCarthy for McCarthy's violent denunciation of General George
C. Marshall (PBS,
American Experience - Eisenhower - Presidential Politics).
It was election politics as usual, accompanied with a formal McCarthy Endorsement
by Eisenhower. But it came to haunt Eisenhower, who owed more to
George Marshall than any other man for his own rise to world acclaim (U.S.
Army's Dwight David
It is quite easy to overlook how powerful McCarthy had become within the Republican Party during the 1950 to 1952 period. The June 1, 1950 document National Suicide Margaret Chase Smith and Six Republican Senators Speak Out Against Joseph McCarthy's Attack on Individual Freedom shows a damning indictment of the Senator for all to witness--yet only seven Republicans of nearly 50 in the Senate were willing to sign this document.
Influential eastern newspapers and their cartoonists fired their own shots at McCarthy. In particular the Washington Post cartoonist Herb Block castigated McCarthy brilliantly, per Fire! (Herblock's History Political Cartoons from the Crash to the Millennium, Library of Congress Exhibition). But again, McCarthy continued about his business without apparent pause. This may have informed Eisenhower to the wisdom of avoiding any confrontations with the Senator. Blocks notes that, too.
 Ambrose claims "It was not the things Eisenhower did behind the scenes but rather his most public act, the assertion of the right of executive privilege, that was his major contribution to McCarthy's downfall (1984, 189)." Rather than a hidden hand at work since January 1953, this instead reflected Eisenhower's wrathful response to McCarthy's repeated public attacks upon Eisenhower as well as Truman-appointed executive officers, including General Zwicker of the U.S. Army.
February 24, 2010 03:36 PM
Copyright©2001-2010, Russell D. Renka