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Ike as President

December 2023
6min read

Ike as President, by RICHARD NIXON
As Vice President during Eisenhower's Administration, Richard M. Nixon was particularly close to the President, both officially and personally. In the following selection from his book Six Crises,* published in 1962, Mr. Nixon reveals some of Eisenhower’s personal characteristics.
. as I went to see Eisenhower [on September 15, 1952] the road ahead seemed full of promise and no pitfalls. . . . I saw General Eisenhower that evening in his headquarters at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. The place was swarming with aides, party workers, and visiting dignitaries. It had the aura of a command post. Eisenhower was not the ordinary run-of-the-mill candidate seeking friends and supporters. He had been Commander of all Allied troops in Europe during the Second World War; he was the General who won the war; and even as a candidate he was accorded the respect, honor, and awe that only a President usually receives. Despite his great capacity for friendliness, he also had a quality of reserve which, at least subconsciously, tended to make a visitor feel like a junior officer coming in to see the commanding General.
The first time I ever saw Eisenhower, he was in fact the victorious commanding General. It was shortly after V-E Day. I was thirty-two years old and a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. After returning from service overseas in the South Pacific, I was assigned the task of negotiating settlements of terminated war contracts in the Bureau of Aeronautics Office at 50 Church Street, New York City. General Eisenhower, the returning hero, was riding through the streets of Manhattan in the greatest ticker-tape parade in the city's history. As I looked down from a twentieth floor window, I could see him standing in the back of his car with both arms raised high over his head. It was a gesture which was to become his political trademark in the years ahead.
I met him again five years later at the Bohemian Grove, near San Francisco, where we were both luncheon guests of former President Herbert Hoover. I had just won the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in California. We were introduced, but he met so many others during his stay there that I doubted then if he would remember me.
Less than a year later, in December of 1951, I met him again at the Headquarters of SHAPE in Paris, and this time we talked for almost forty-five minutes. He made a great impression on me with his grasp of international affairs. I came away from that meeting with my first personal understanding of the Eisenhower popularity: he had an incomparable ability to show a deep interest in a wide range of subjects, and he displayed as much interest when he listened as when he spoke. I recall that he was particularly interested in my role in the Hiss case. He had read accounts of it and pointed out that one of the reasons I had been successful where others in the Communist investigating field had failed was that I had insisted on scrupulously fair procedures in my handling of the case.
In Denver that Monday night we reviewed our campaign strategy. The plan was for General Eisenhower to stress the positive aspects of his "Crusade to Clean Up the Mess in Washington." I was to hammer away at our opponents on the record of the Truman Administration, with particular emphasis on Communist subversion because of my work in the Hiss case.
I left Denver early the next morning ready for battle and confident of victory....
Stripped of all personal and collateral considerations, the real issue was: who would win the election, Eisenhower or Stevenson? To me, this was not a choice between two equally able men who happened to be members of different parties. I will admit that I was not an objective observer; but to me Eisenhower was a great leader who could provide the inspiration needed by the United States and the Free World in so critical a time. . . .
* * *
On Saturday, September 24, 1955, the United States Senate was not in session, and any concern about the state of the President's health was the furthest thing from my mind...
I . . . was checking the baseball averages in the sports section when the phone rang. I walked into the hall and picked up the receiver. "Dick," said a familiar voice, "this is Jim Hagerty—the President has had a coronary."
It is impossible to describe how I felt when I heard these words. The news was so unexpected, the shock so great that I could think of nothing to say for several seconds. . . .
I had been completely unprepared for this turn of events. During the three years I had been Vice President, there had never been any reason to worry about the President's health. He had waged a vigorous campaign in 1952, and since his inauguration, despite newspaper criticism of his vacations and his golf, he had maintained a strict schedule of early rising and hard work at his desk. He was, in fact, a superb specimen of a man who believed in keeping himself physically fit. Golf was part of the regimen prescribed by his doctor as the best means of relieving the tremendous tension and strain of the presidency. . .
The personal crisis for Dwight D. Eisenhower was not the heart attack per se, because he had no control over that, but the decision of whether or not, after such a brush with death, to run for re-election in 1956. The basic considerations which went into this decision were the same before and after September 1955—with the exception of the heart attack—and I believe it was the heart attack itself which, more than anything else, helped convince him to become a candidate for re-election.
Eisenhower frequently had told his associates that he wanted to be a one-term President. He thought that in four years he could substitute his concept of a moderate federal government, a free economy, and a balanced budget for what he considered the Democratic Party's drift toward a welfare state. He wanted to build up the Republican Party into a moderate, responsible majority party, and then turn over the reins to a younger man. He intended to put this concept of a one-term President into his first inaugural address, but at the last minute he was talked out of that. However, this did not stop him from discussing the idea. . . .
He was not in office much more than a year when he began to tell associates from time to time of his intention to retire at the end of his first term. Usually these outbursts were recognized as temporary sentiments of the moment, reflecting a re-cent setback of one kind or another. But as 1956 approached, they were regarded more and more seriously.
When he moved his office to Denver, August 14, 1955, the political pressures on the President to run again in 1956 had reached a crescendo. The Republican National Convention was just a year off. The respite from urgent government business at Denver was seen as a time when the President could reach the all-important political decision on a second term. At Denver, before the heart attack, Eisenhower seemed particularly testy, easily irritated, and on edge. He kept putting off those who wanted to talk politics with the exclamation that he was in Denver to fish and play golf.
Two weeks before the heart attack, following a meeting of Republican State Chairmen, Len Hall visited Eisenhower in Denver to press upon him the party's and the nation's need for him to run for re-election. The President listened and paced the floor, and told the party Chairman what he had told others: "What more do they want from me? . . . I've given all of my adult life to the country. . . . What more must I do? . . ." He then went on to list five or six names, mine included, of men he said were younger than he and just as able to carry on the Eisenhower mode of government.
Hall left that meeting discouraged, but not convinced that the chances of Eisenhower's running were hopeless. Hagerty, Adams, myself, and others in the Administration had heard the President speak of retirement, but we knew that the nature of the office always leaves important unfinished business at the end of a President's term of office, and that few real leaders can turn their backs on such a challenge. We knew that Eisenhower was not a quitter—that he liked to finish a job which he had started. Our arguments to him stressed that he was the best if not the only man who could accomplish the undone work which lay ahead.
If I had bet at that time, I would have wagered that he would seek a second term. Incidentally, my judgment of what Eisenhower would do was not based on any theory that a man in power loves power for its own sake. The office of President of the United States carries an aura of responsibility which transcends the personal power the office holds. It demands a dedication and devotion which is greater than any personal consideration of the man who occupies the office. No leader of men who has occupied that office and devoted his being to it can turn away when his work is still incomplete. To a lesser extent this holds true for leaders in other walks of life, who carry on despite great financial and physical problems. . . .
Eisenhower demonstrated a trait that I believe all great leaders have in common: they thrive on challenge; they are at their best when the going is hardest. When life is routine, they become bored; when they have no challenge, they tend to wither and die or to go to seed. While such men might think and often exclaim how nice it would be if they could play golf every day and take long vacations whenever they wished, in actual fact they need challenges, problems, and hard work to sustain the will to live.

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