Why Ike Keeps Going Up Up Up in Scholarly PollsHistorians/History
tags: presidential rankings, Eisenhower
Keith W. Olson is a professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park.
In his 1963 memoir Dwight David Eisenhower commented about presidential legacies and his in particular. He started with what he called “the trite observation that history will have to make the final judgment.” Time, he added, brings perspective, and the actions of successors profoundly influence how a later generation would review a president’s legacy. Two examples illustrate his point.
In his Farewell Address Eisenhower wanted “to share a few final thoughts” with Americans. In his first substantive thought he declared that “our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on questions of great moment….” For the last six years of his administration, the Democrats controlled Congress. Eisenhower believed that “on most vital issues” the Congress and the Administration “cooperated weekly, to serve the nation well rather than mere partisanship….” He concluded that “his official relationship with Congress ends on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.” His legacy of bipartisanship remains a standard model unequaled in post-1961 presidential history The nadir of bipartisanship perhaps took place in October 2010 when Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell declared in an interview that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Bipartisanship, of course, requires mature leaders who have a concept of and a commitment to the national interest.
The second legacy that Eisenhower left also serves as model. Evan Thomas, historian and professor of journalism at Princeton University, succinctly emphasized both Eisenhower’s legacy and model and the quick disregard of both by his successors. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Thomas concluded in his well-received book Ike’s Bluff, “adopted a policy of ‘flexible response’ that made possible the small wars that Eisenhower did his best to avoid. The result was Vietnam.”
The passage of time and the performance of his successors have enhanced Eisenhower’s legacies of bipartisanship and broad foreign policy vision. Because of this perspective, the five polls spanning nineteen years ranked Eisenhower seventh of all presidents, as summarized in American Presidents: The Greatest and the Worst. The five polls were: 1996 Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. poll of presidential scholars; 2005 Wall Street Journal poll of 130 prominent professors of history; 2009 C-SPAN poll of 65 historians; 2010 Siena College poll of 238 scholars; and 2015 American Political Science Association poll of 162 members.
In February 2018, the most recent survey, 170 members of the American Political Science Association ranked Eisenhower seventh.
comments powered by Disqus
- What Does Invoking The 25th Amendment Actually Look Like?
- Paul Allen’s team finds wreck of storied USS Helena, torpedoed in 1943
- Israel Celebrates Its 70th Israeli Style: With Rancor and Bickering
- ‘One last time’: Barbara Bush had already faced a death more painful than her own
- Belgium comes to terms with 'human zoos' of its colonial past
- Mary Beard cut from US version of “Civilisations"
- Timothy Garton Ash: "We have six months to foil Brexit. And here’s how we can do it.”
- Why the Pulitzer Prize committee keeps ignoring women’s history
- No, we're not reliving the 1960s, says Harvard historian Arne Westad
- 2018 Pulitzers in History, Biography and Nonfiction Go to ...