Geoffrey Kabaservice: Why Won’t the GOP Stick Up For Dwight Eisenhower?Roundup: Historians' Take
Geoffrey Kabaservice is the author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party.
With its 80-foot-high smokestack columns towering over a four-acre site whose only representation of its subject would be a statue showing him as a barefoot boy, the current design for the proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial in Washington, D.C. manages to be both bombastic and silly. It’s easy to imagine tourists mistaking the memorial as a spectacularly misconceived tribute to Huckleberry Finn.
Which is why it’s entirely appropriate that a dispute has broken out over it....
But one group has thus far been conspicuously absent in the fight: Eisenhower’s own political party, the GOP. Indeed, Republicans’ silence on the matter of Eisenhower’s legacy says volumes about how far the party has come since his day. Rather than claim ownership over his legacy, they have abandoned it entirely, to the detriment of their party and their country....
This should probably come as no surprise. The conservative movement that has taken over the GOP was nursed on hatred of Eisenhower’s moderation. The eight years of peace and prosperity he gave Americans are remembered by conservatives as a dark age of “me-too” Republicanism, brightened only by the founding of the Ike-smiting National Review in 1955. The anti-heroic bent of the proposed Eisenhower memorial, with its refusal to acknowledge that there was anything great or admirable about its subject, may well be a source of considerable satisfaction to many on the right as well as the left.
But it’s important to remember that the relationship between the 1950s conservative movement and its contemporaneous Republican President was one of mutual ill-will. Conservatives had expected that Eisenhower, as the first Republican president since 1932, would repeal the New Deal; instead he augmented and expanded programs like Social Security, thereby giving them bipartisan legitimacy as well as added effectiveness. Conservatives had expected that the president would support Senator Joseph McCarthy’s crusade to tar all liberals as pro-Communist; instead he denied McCarthy the authority to subpoena federal witnesses and receive classified documents, thereby precipitating the red-baiter’s overreach and fall....
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