THE DIARY OF JAMES C. HAGERTY: Eisenhower in Mid-Course, 1954-1955 by James C. Hagerty

THE DIARY OF JAMES C. HAGERTY: Eisenhower in Mid-Course, 1954-1955

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KIRKUS REVIEW

By the evidence of press secretary Hagerty's fragmentary diary, the verdict on the Eisenhower presidency may well be, after all, that he was neither the idler once believed nor the wizard of recent reappraisals (like Fred Greenstein's overblown The Hidden-Hand Presidency). Hagerty, a confidant but not a yes-man, is probably as good a witness as any. (""You're used to my various moods,"" Ike noted, ""and they don't seem to bother you."") In one respect, however, he may have slanted the record to accord with his own, unconcealed sympathies: the dominant theme of the diary's 16 months--January 1954 through April 1955--is Eisenhower's struggle with ""right-wing Old Guard"" Republicans (over the Bricker Amendment, the Indochina accords, Formosa, free trade, health insurance, housing) and his overall determination to remake the party along ""moderate,"" ""progressive,"" even ""liberal"" lines. For that very reason, his handling of the McCarthy affair, about which so much has been written, doesn't come off well. True, Eisenhower did eventually conspire at McCarthy's downfall. ""President very mad and getting fed up,"" Hagerty writes on February 25, 1954. ""It's his Army, and he doesn't like McCarthy's tactics at all."" But the day after the Senate ""condemnation"" vote, Eisenhower is sounding out aides on how to congratulate Sen. Watkins, whose committee started the process, without further antagonizing the McCarthyites. Where Eisenhower does shine is in his handling of one after another ticklish situation--like the Chinese offshore islands (""sometimes I wish they'd sink"")--that might have brought on war. Here, the Eisenhower-over-Dulles proponents (viz. Robert Divine's Eisenhower and the Cold War) carry the day, Altogether, the book is for people who know how to interpret the evidence: generally, Ferrell notes what's going on, but says no more. (The one interesting exception is on release of the Yalta Papers.) So we have, unremarked (for example), Eisenhower's very early (July 27, 1954) indication to Hagerty that he'll run for a second term. Closest to standing alone are the entries Hagerty made on two key occasions after he'd stopped keeping the diary regularly: at the time of Eisenhower's first heart attack and when, after his recovery, he was weighing alternative Republican candidates. (Frank Lausche was one; but so was brother Milton--on a ""Young Ike ticket."") For politics-and-media mavens, the diary also covers Hagerty's canny handling of the advent of television. Little pop appeal (unlike Ferrell's HST round-up, Off the Record); but considerable historical interest.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1983
Publisher: Indiana Univ. Press