Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower 1961-1969
Did Americans really know Dwight David Eisenhower? Based on this memoir by Eisenhower's grandson, the answer is no.
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Nonetheless, despite an incestuous aura about the book – it tiptoes around the sometimes touchy relationship between Nixon and Eisenhower, for example – it does wade into other troubled waters. Eisenhower, whose politics were so amorphous that he was approached by President Harry Truman in 1947 to head the 1948 Democratic ticket (the incumbent was willing to assume the role of second banana), was not a Republican in the contemporary sense of the word. He may have had serious reservations (detailed in the book) about his dashing young successor, John F. Kennedy, but the two conferred fairly often on matters great and small. And the elder statesman gave advice that he hoped would help Kennedy succeed for the good of the nation. It was all very ecumenical by today’s standards.Skip to next paragraph
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But rank partisanship was just around the corner in the person of Barry Goldwater, who scoffed at Eisenhower’s tenure as being “a dime store New Deal,” who opposed civil rights, and who thought it would be a good idea to give NATO commanders the power to launch tactical nuclear weapons if they saw fit, rather than wait for presidential approval. Dealing with Goldwater was not Eisenhower’s finest hour. He waffled and wavered while complaining in private that the Arizona senator was both stubborn and stupid. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to oppose him openly, before or after his nomination.
Prior to the 1964 convention, Eisenhower wrote an op-ed piece describing the ideal Republican candidate that applied to Nelson Rockefeller and all comers except Goldwater, but later denied that this was the case when pressed by reporters to admit the obvious. After his nomination, when Goldwater was running against Eisenhower’s record as much as he was Lyndon Johnson’s, Ike campaigned for him.
More disappointing was Eisenhower’s decision to become an advocate for the escalating war that he so sagely avoided in 1954. Like Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson conferred with Eisenhower about foreign policy and the former president was more hawkish on Vietnam than the incumbent. In 1968, however, Eisenhower was less decisive on whether he would endorse Nixon, his vice president of eight years whose daughter Tricia was engaged to his grandson, for the Republican nomination. When he finally got around to it, less than three weeks before the convention, he praised Nixon for many things, but “above all his integrity.”
David Holahan is a freelance writer in East Haddam, Conn.