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by Tom Wicker

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8050-6907-0
Publisher: Henry Holt

A self-styled liberal Republican who resisted liberal reforms, a pretty good guy but not such a great president.

Such is the Eisenhower that journalist-novelist Wicker (Easter Lily, 1998, etc.) delivers in this slender, well-written entry in Arthur Schlesinger’s American Presidents series (see Hans L. Trefousse, above) a biography full of gentle gainsaying and sometimes not-so-gentle criticism. He accepted the presidency reluctantly, Eisenhower tells us in his autobiography, as something of an unwanted duty; but, Wicker suggests, Eisenhower actively courted the Republican Party’s nomination, satisfying a long-held ambition that was evident even to his subordinates in WWII. He conducted his presidency with moderation and diplomacy, welcome in a time of ever-heating cold war; among other things, he ended the war in Korea and steered a peaceful course through the shoals of events such as the U2 incident and the French defeat in Indochina. Yet, Wicker holds, Eisenhower had at least as many failures as successes: he failed to defang the red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy, preferring to avoid confrontation with him; he allowed Richard Nixon the job of vice president, even though Eisenhower seems to have detested him (“the president considered Nixon too ‘politically minded’ and doubted he was ‘mature enough’—a constant, rather condescending Eisenhower concern about many of his associates”); and he did almost nothing, and then reluctantly, to attend to pressing issues on the home front, particularly those having to do with civil rights. In the end, Wicker writes, after eight years as president, Eisenhower left the world more divided and hostile than when he took office, and otherwise failed to impress. All of which Wicker, an admitted supporter of Adlai Stevenson at the time, seems inclined to forgive, writing wearily, “Dwight Eisenhower was a good man, at times a great man, and it seems unnecessary to try to make him out a great president, too.”

Q.E.D. A brief but solid study that gives credit where it’s due, but that gives little reason to give Eisenhower more than a gentleman’s C as chief executive.