ARTICLES

THE EISENHOWER TRAGEDY

The president is a broken man *The West is leaderless *Nixon is a dark enigma *How long can the stalemate last?

Bruce Hutchison April 12 1958
ARTICLES

THE EISENHOWER TRAGEDY

The president is a broken man *The West is leaderless *Nixon is a dark enigma *How long can the stalemate last?

Bruce Hutchison April 12 1958

THE EISENHOWER TRAGEDY

The president is a broken man *The West is leaderless *Nixon is a dark enigma *How long can the stalemate last?

ARTICLES

Bruce Hutchison

WHERE ARE WE GOING? This is the second of three articles by Bruce Hutchison on various aspects of the present crisis in the free world.

From “frustrated and inert” Washington

reports:

The tragedy of Dwight D. Eisenhower is cast in a classic mold. Like every tragic hero, this man attempts a high purpose, succeeds at first and then is overwhelmed by forces within and without himself. But the case of Eisenhower is not merely the tragedy of a man. It is the tragedy of a system, a nation and a free world. No free man, however remote, can escape its consequences.

In this closing phase of a great career it is easy to see retrospectively that Eisenhower's highest purposes were doomed from the beginning.

They were doomed by the character of the man and by the circumstances of his time. Even if his character had been different and the times less out of joint, a third and crushing element of tragedy would have struck him down. A tiny, hidden weakness of physical tissue could not survive the strains of an office almost past mortal endurance.

All these elements of character, body and circumstance were disguised in 1952 by the most extraordinary psychological invention in American history: the myth of Ike.

A creature who never lived, an image blown up beyond the dimensions of humanity, was cunningly imprinted on the public mind—not by Eisenhower, whose inner humility is genuine and radiant, but by the wishful thinkers and the masters of political propaganda. Their fiction is now dissolving before their eyes.

Dissolution was far advanced in Washington when I visited that sad anti angry town a few weeks ago. But the vital news of the day takes time to seep through the nation and the world. The simple fact is that the presidency has ceased to function as the fulcrum of domestic and foreign power. It is never likely to function thus again so long as an ailing man sits in the White House.

This alarming fact travels slowly in part because no responsible American wants to believe

it; in part because the newspaper correspondents feel a decent aversion to printing it: and finally because the inventors of the myth are loath to abandon their masterpiece and probably their jobs. They have no substitute but a mysterious stranger, a completely unknown quantity, a dark enigma: Vice-President Nixon.

The grim truth is blurred temporarily by the president's cheerful public appearances and occasional decisions. These appear sufficient to him, but they are the least part of the presidency.

The essential part is the subtle force of true leadership, the management of events before they become unmanageable, the reconciliation of rival groups throughout society and the concentration of executive power through one man who must be the ultimate arbiter of American life. There is no such man today.

The presidential function, immense and indescribable. has been performed successfully by perhaps eight men from Washington onward, three of them in this century. It can be performed only by genius, and only by a man in robust health.

Eisenhower has the genius of human understanding and friendship but it was never an adequate genius for this work. Now, in the final stroke of his tragedy, he has been robbed of the physical and, more important, the psychic strength required. And not at a normal time but at the supreme crisis of human history.

It is impossible, of course, for anyone outside the White House to know precisely how' Eisenhower is operating from day to day. He has surrounded himself with an impervious wall of loyal friends whose duty is to protect and sustain him.

Every foreign embassy has its own independent medical reports on the president’s health and physical prospects—a political fact of primary magnitude. In the end, however, since no outsider can look into the

continued on page 56

The Eisenhower tragedy

continued from page 15

“He has become a part-time president. His aides, fearing to strain him, work on outdated orders”

White House and no doctor can foresee the chance of another illness, the state of the presidency must be judged by visible results. They are obvious and appalling.

Instead of government by a presidency the nation now has government by committee—a shifting congeries of committees set up to thrash out problems as they arise and always with the overriding instruction that they must avoid worrying the president.

Even in his younger days Eisenhower refused to work long hours, depending mainly on an elaborate administrative machine like a military general staff. Now that he is unwell and a scant year away from being the oldest president in history he has become a part-time president. He drops in briefly on top committees now and then, and settles only the issues that cannot be further postponed or settled otherwise.

The result is that many urgent issues drag on while committees seek some compromise likely to suit the president. Worse than that, the sub-presidential functionaries, fearing to strain the president, tend to operate on directives given in his earlier years and now outdated by events.

The British system might manage to function by committee methods, given a strong prime minister. The American system cannot. This system (which a healthy ex-president, Harry Truman, calls the best invented by man) works well under a strong president but it assumes a world no longer in existence.

It was built in a simple time, for a society almost entirely rural and on a set of theories almost unalterable. It assumed that a large group of men would make the laws and that one man would administer them. In this man every atom of executive power was vested. Within the law his power was unlimited and, if he w'ere strong, he could stretch the law pretty far.

Thus the slightest failure in one man

is like the failure of one small gear crippling a great machine.

Weakness in the presidency cannot be overcome by strength in the cabinet, in the legislature or in any alternative agency. The power of the presidency cannot be delegated to any colleague, however able, since any controversial decision will be appealed to the president.

The resulting burden was realized in the first years of the Republic when Washington uttered his famous cry of anguish: He would rather be in his

grave than in the presidency.

As the world of Washington was replaced gradually by a world of two titanic power blocs balanced on either side of a nuclear abyss, every decision by the presidency moved like an electric current to the ends of the earth.

Today those currents are being shortcircuited.

That the Eisenhower of 1958 is not the Eisenhower of 1952 need cause no surprise. The presidency always does strange things to its occupants. They enter it one man and emerge another. It turned a small-town lawyer into the giant named Abraham Lincoln. It turned Franklin Roosevelt, a dilettante aristocrat, into a social revolutionary and a masterly maker of war. It turned Truman, a haberdasher from Missouri, into perhaps the boldest maker of foreign policy in American history. But the presidency turned Eisenhower, a soldier of ruddy health, into a frail man three times close to death and haunted always by the risk of a fourth illness.

This is not to say that a Democratic president would have done any better. That we can never know. Certainly it is not to say that the politics of the United States are any more confused than those of Canada. They are, at this writing, less confused.

1 merely record that as a visitor to Washington in the great depression, at the time of Pearl Harbor, and again during the Korean war, 1 never saw this

town in such a state of frustration, confusion and helpless inertia.

There is more than enough intelligence and drive here in an agglomeration of abilily and even of genius that makes the Canadian visitor feel ignorant and humble.

Beyond Washington is a people unequalled, as it seemed until a few months ago. in all the arts of science, machinery, production and material power.

Yet somehow these elements of matchless strength could not he fused before Russia launched the first intercontinental rocket and earth satellite.

The glare of Sputnik illuminated many dark corners in the current world, it revealed at once the failures of the presidency. For under the pyramidal American system the nation’s ability, genius and energy could have been fused only through one man.

[he state of the American government is perhaps better than the nation had any right to expect after the president’s last illness bul it is not good enough. For a time it was hoped that Eisenhower’s quick recovery from his stroke would be followed by an improvement in government. As these hopes are clearly failing the first open demands for the president’s resignation are being heard. They will grow, i think, rapidly and unanswerably.

Whispers up tlie speaking tube

Most of the people l know in Washington believe that, probably within this year, the president will decide that his duty is to resign. If so, he will resign at once. Duty has been his law as a soldier all his life.

Then Nixon will succeed him. This prospect raises no enthusiasm anywhere but even men most critical of the vicepresident say that any alternative is better than semi-paralysis of government.

As Harper's Magazine said recently in an editorial of rather shocking candor: “A leaky ship in a hurricane, with a committee on the bridge and a crippled captain sending occasional whispers up the speaking tube from the sick bay might stay afloat. But its chances would be a lot better if the first mate—any first mate—took the wheel.”

Nixon’s chances of taking the wheel not long hence appear excellent. This will suit him but not the sub-navigators like John Foster Dulles and Sherman Adams. It is agreed that Nixon will scuttle government by committee.

All these possibilities are solely in the president’s hands. Despite Eisenhower’s advice, Congress has not attempted to amend the Constitution and provide some impartial method of deciding when a president is incapacitated (although Eisenhower recently made public a “clear understanding” allowing Nixon to take over all the presidential powers and duties should Eisenhower be disabled so badly he cannot judge his own fitness).

We have to recognize here something much larger than the state of the American government.

“The largest fact of all,” as one of America's most eminent historical writers reminded me, “is that the free world, facing the new czar of Russia, is without a single leader who can command its full confidence. Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman, all the giants are gone. We have a vacuum everywhere outside the communist world. After a high tide of leadership during the war and in the postwar years, we are beached by a low tide.”

Eisenhower's personal tragedy, though only one incident in the general dilemma of the West, greatly aggravates it. This is demonstrated most visibly in the phenomenon of Dulles.

Dulles is a curious and much misunderstood personage. As one of his intimates and former colleagues explained him to me:

“Foster is an able man and a sincere man, in some ways a great man. But he juffers from an overpowering sense of divine mission. It compels him to save 'he world single-handed. The more difficult that job becomes, the more he tnjoys it. His increasing burdens are a jure proof of God’s confidence in him. No one else can do His work.

“That’s one half of Foster’s mind. The other half is an appetite for personal power utterly insatiable, almost psychotic.”

Whether this is a sound psychoanalysis of Dulles I cannot say, though most of Washington seems to agree with it. But sound or not, the power of this man is undeniable. He does not merely administer the foreign policy of the United States. He makes and re-makes it as he chooses. He is himself that policy.

One of the oldest and most experienced observers in Washington, whose name is a household word throughout America, outlined the Dulles phenomenon thus:

“From the start Eisenhower trusted Dulles absolutely. Knowing little about foreign policy himself, Eisenhower naturally depended on an expert. As a supreme commander in war he let his {eneráis fight iheir own battles. As president he left the battle of foreign policy to his secretary of state. Until recently, though, the president still possessed the energy, now and then, to say No, as he said it in Indo-China. The great change came when the president no longer felt able to say No to Dulles.”

Eisenhower has publicly announced that his trusted partner will remain with him to the end of the road even though the personality of Dulles has sowed distrust throughout the Western alliance.

Unlike Dulles’ one-man show', domestic affairs are not concentrated in any individual. Instead, there is a wide and growing diffusion which no one can follow from day to day. A few extra-mural power centres can be discerned, however.

In the Senate Lyndon Johnson gathers power into his skilled hands, willy-nilly, like no legislator within living memory. It is power but not vital leadership. The Constitution, with its checks and balances, makes it impossible for any legislator, however competent and dedicated, to wield executive power.

Torn between the temptations of Democratic politics and his sense of duty to president and nation, Johnson can and usually does support the government’s foreign policy. He cannot make it, cannot execute it, and if it goes wrong cannot unmake it. He cct/t make domestic policy by way of legislation but cannot enforce it.

Another focus of power has grown up in the White House staff, or “the team” as the president used to call it. At its head is the extraordinary and subtle figure of Adams, who tries to substitute for the president as a party manager and umpire of administrative squabbles.

Even in a partnership as close as that of Eisenhower and Adams the lack of cohesion cannot always be disguised. When the president appeals, in Chicago, for a non-partisan defense policy Adams flies to Minneapolis and bitterly blames the Democrats for the nation’s weak defenses.

The teamwork often breaks down. The vacuum widens. And into the vacuum rush senators demanding concessions for their states, service chiefs demanding more money for their departments, bureaucrats whose feuds cannot be settled

by Adams, pressure groups of business, labor, agriculture and all those conflicting minorities that can be reconciled only by an almost superhuman president.

Eisenhower was never such a man, though he certainly seemed to be the best man available in 1952. If he had been such a man, the cards of destiny were all stacked against him.

He was persuaded to accept nomination by a combination of sincere Republicans who could not tolerate the leadership of the Old Guard, and self-seekers who saw in him the only chance of de-

stroying the Democratic regime of twenty years.

Undoubtedly Eisenhower sought office from the best motives. As an ardent internationalist fresh from the Allies’ wars, he felt obligated to prevent the election of Senator Robert Taft, an isolationist only half re-converted to internationalism. (I talked to that great man only once, but he disclosed an abiding suspicion of foreign nations and an amazing ignorance of Canada next door.)

If Eisenhower had read the record of the Republican Party he must have

noted two daunting facts in direct conflict with all his instincts.

First, the Republican Party was historically the party of business, of property, of conservatism—a perfectly sound party position, but not for the party he intended to lead.

Second, the record of the Republican Party must have looked rather terrifying. It tried to impeach President Johnson for carrying through Lincoln’s generous policy toward the South and failed by a single vote. In this century it repudiated the work of its only great president,

Theodore Roosevelt. It nominated the pitiable Harding, was satisfied with the do-nothing Coolidge and blamed Hoover for the debacle of 1932.

Moreover, for Eisenhower’s purpose, the Republican Party, or at least half of it, was fundamentally hostile to him, both in constitutional theory and in practice.

In theory the party has generally stood, with the sole exception of Theodore Roosevelt's regime, for the strength of the legislature rather than the executive. A legislature of great power and few responsibilities could claim all the credit for successes and blame failures on a president with less power and more responsibility.

In practice, half the party and most of its professional politicians stood, in 1952, against those very reforms that Eisenhower regarded as his mission.

Nevertheless, a man ignorant of politics but burning with his mission resolved to re-make the Republican Party in his own fine image. That task might have been barely possible for a master of politics like Franklin Roosevelt. It was impossible for Eisenhower, an executive and a soldier.

He foresaw his difficulties quite plainly when, at first, he refused to run. At that time, as Truman recently revealed, Eisenhower wrote a letter arguing that no soldier would be likely to make a good president. He perceived but then decided to ignore the warnings of his own good sense and of history, as attested by Ulysses S. Grant and others.

At all events, the re-making of the Republican Party required a party manager, the third aspect of the presidential trinity, the others being the executive and the commander-in-chief.

It’s not Ike's art

Eisenhower could never make a successful party manager. He disliked politics. The whole business of management by threat, persuasion, punishment and reward. was repellent to a nature essentially simple in the best meaning of that word.

Besides, he did not understand party management. How could he? Eisenhower was hurled into the vortex of politics without a day’s training, his mind already shaped by another art.

Still, he made a good start by capturing the loyalty and affection of his great conservative opponent, Taft. Their alii; anee, though it covered a deep gulf of principle rather thinly, promised large achievements. Yet something vital had already gone wrong. Unwilling to be a party manager, the president attempted to be a kind of constitutional monarch above the dust of the arena. This could never work.

The first intimations of the coming tragedy appeared with Taft’s death. That left no Republican figure strong enough, or sympathetic enough to Eisenhower, to tame and gradually reform the Republican right wing.

It was bad enough for Eisenhower to find himself in a split party with no adequate lieutenant in the legislature; much worse was his own misreading of the times. T he soldier looked at the power map of the world and quite misconstrued it, as the great majority of his peoplemisconstrued it, as we certainly misconstrued it in Canada.

We can now sec that Eisenhower, who might have been a magnificent success in other times, was elected for the wrong purpose, at the wrong moment with the wrong policy. By 1952 the natural ebb and flow of presidential power had already been broken. Throughout Amen can history a strong president and a weak

legislature have been replaced, at roughly eight-year intervals, by the opposite. But the regimes of Roosevelt and Truman had stretched the dominance of the presidency to twenty years. Legislature and people were naturally hostile to it.

Then, too, the depression. World War 11. the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the MacArthur episode, the inflation and the mink-coat scandals had sickened the people of adventure. They enthusiastically elected Eisenhower to get the country hick on a straight, smooth road. His friendly, boyish face looked like the contemporary image of the old American Dream.

All this seemed reasonable at the time. Aí the power of the United States remained unchallengeable, its allies recovering miraculously with American aid and the Russians occupied with their own affairs, the era of alarms was past.

Therein lay one of history’s major miscalculations. It meant that Eisenhower and his people, seemingly so sure of their path, had marched down a blind alley from which they have been struggling to extricate themselves ever since.

The personal, national and worldwide tragedy was now well under way. While the American nation began to build a higher standard of living the Russians were quietly building rockets. At the precise moment of American relaxation the supreme crisis was at hand. (In fairness any Canadian reporter must add that his own country was more complacent than its neighbor, softer in policy, greedier for an easy life and proportionately less generous to its foreign friends.)

Thus led by an amateur and managed by the professionals, the Republican campaign of 1952 was launched with lofty hopes and it succeeded beyond expectation.

Nevertheless, a dispassionate observer must have noted, even in this first phase, a meaningful portent. Ignorant of politics, depending too much for advice on the professionals and too little on his own sound intuitions, Eisenhow'er held his nose and appeased Senator Joseph McCarthy.

In office he continued to appease McCarthyism, restraining with difficulty an explosive temper and a delicate sense of decency. It was not the president but the nation, through a band of courageous senators, that destroyed McCarthyism— not before it had done great damage to American society and American prestige abroad.

No one can say, of course, that a different presidential method in this ugly episode would have succeeded better; it might have wrecked the party, as the bolder Theodore Roosevelt wrecked it in 1912. It was clear anyway that the Republican gulf had not been effectively bridged by Eisenhower’s methods, nor the party as a whole recreated in his progressive image.

All these organic Republican schisms (schisms existing in the Democratic Party as well but usually better hidden) were forgotten in the first triumphant advance of Eisenhower’s “crusade” toward a better life for all. Forgotten, too, or little noted as the nation embarked on a euphoric boom, was the Messianic personage now installed in the State Department.

Dulles proceeded to plant a series of time bombs in American society and in the Western alliance and was himself the largest time bomb inside the Eisenhower administration. First he divided American society by indicting the former Democratic government for bungling foreign affairs. The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, thus encouraged, went on to indict the Democrats for "twenty

years of treason.” Then the assault on the opposition became, in McCarthy’s heyday, and in the Bricker constitutional amendment, an assault on the presidency itself.

Next, Dulles terrified and divided the alliance with such inspired phrases as “massive retaliation” and “brink of war.” Finally it was Lester Pearson who rescued American diplomacy from the Suez debacle; it was a Democratic opponent, Acheson, who rushed to the defense of Dulles a few months ago when he was challenged by George Kennan on the proposition of withdrawal from Europe.

Three years after his election Eisenhower appeared to be in perfect health and was enjoying a popularity accorded no predecessor, but as a statesman he began to wear, under the boyish grin, the first faint tinge of tragedy.

On the night of Sept. 24, 1955, came the heart attack at Denver. Tragedy was no longer theoretical or political. It was physical. Its immediate effect was to fracture not only the president’s bodily strength but his executive power.

While Dulles now grasped complete control of foreign policy, domestic policy in its financial and economic aspects had fallen into the hands of a much abler man.

George Humphrey, secretary of the treasury, sincerely held an orthodox business philosophy, distrusted the Keynesian theories planted in the New Deal of 1933 and believed, above all, that the budget must be balanced lest its continued deficits produce an inflation and then a depression which “will curl your hair.”

No more an economist than Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower went along with Humphrey, allowing him to hold down military spending as late as 1957 while the Russians were preparing to launch their first Sputnik.

Though Dulles and Humphrey were dividing policy between them—the former’s policy abroad often undercut by the latter’s economy at home—the president recovered satisfactorily from his first illness, seemed to be grasping again the tangled reins of power and was in his best form by the early summer of 1956. On June 9 he suffered his second illness. But he recovered from a serious operation so rapidly that he decided to seek, a second term.

That was his greatest mistake and assured his ultimate tragedy. It should be remembered, however, that he did not foresee the third illness. In addition, he was persuaded to run both by Republicans who considered him essential to the nation and those who only wished to ride on his coat tails while privately abhorring his philosophy.

Eisenhower was easily re-elected but lost control of the legislature. Still, the president appeared to be a well man and a regnant leader until the summer of 1957. Then four events engulfed him.

The first of itself was sufficient to wreck his leadership. A paralytic stroke on June 9, though slight, made certain that he could never lead the nation actively again.

The second was recession. Under the influence of his economic advisers, Eisenhower boldly resolved to tough the recession out. He signed another balanced budget. But early in the new year he began to have doubts and intimated that, if necessary, he would agree to a tax cut and a deliberate deficit to stimulate business. The heavy Keynesian artillery, long in moth balls, was wheeled up.

The decision to follow Keynes, if necessary, was a social decision of highest importance and it represented a queer mixture of presidential success and failure.

The president — or events — had succeeded at last in converting all but the stubborn right wing of the Republican Party to the central mechanism of the New Deal. After a long detour and many aberrations, Eisenhower had returned essentially to the position of Franklin Roosevelt. The revolution of the Thirties (it was nothing less) had long been denied and ineffectually obstructed by the orthodox Republicans but it was now legitimized. Legitimized but not yet tested. The great test may occur this year.

At the same time it became evident that in another department of economic policy the president was failing and lacked the energy to recoup.

He had begun by boldly sponsoring Roosevelt’s campaign for tariff reduction and seemed to be making progress against the Republican protectionists. On this score his motives were sound, his courage admirable. If he knew few of the details of trade, he did not need to know them. (In a famous golf game with Louis St. Laurent he was amazed to hear that

Canada carried a huge deficit in the American market.)

The business slump released all the latent forces of protectionism in both political parties and soon produced the first significant backward step in Eisenhower’s policy of expanding trade. Oil imports were restricted. Restrictions on metals, especially those from Canada, are likely to follow.

A strong president might appeal to the nation over the head of Congress and fight off these assaults on his policy. Eisenhower is in no condition to fight on this or any other sector. His tragedy is exportable and will be exported.

After the president’s paralytic seizure and the business recession came the third event, one of the most important in human history.

Sputnik’s glare exposed the unthinkable truth that under the master soldier the United States had lost its vital margin of power in a naked power struggle. No doubt the American people will retrieve the margin but meanwhile the shock to their confidence in the president, whether he was to blame or not, has been profound and probably irrevocable.

Then came the fouth event in the endless parade of the president’s misfortunes.

At the opening of the Congressional election campaign this year the intransigent elements of the Republican Party began to turn on him like a wolf pack on a wounded leader. Privately some Republican candidates are saying that the president is no longer a political asset. This is a heresy unimaginable a year ago but it may be true, at least in some respects, today.

Eisenhower’s power in politics was bound to decline as his second and last term dwindled and he could no longer punish his enemies or reward his friends beyond 1960. Now that power must decline with dizzy momentum as Washington and the nation realize what has happened to him physically. He cannot risk an active campaign himself.

In the best of circumstances the Republican Party remains a national minority which neither Eisenhower nor any other leader could soon convert into a majority. In the worst of circumstances the Republican Party knows that it must lose the Congressional election as a ghastly prelude to the I960 presidential election. And the Congressional Democrats, daring at last to oppose the myth of Ike openly, are whooping for the kill next autumn.

When the scholarly Senator James Fulbright calls the president “a tired and amiable man with tired policies (spreading) the contagion of his own confusion (in a nation) fat and immobile,” the anatomy of current American politics is dissected with surgical precision.

How can that anatomy be repaired? It can be completely altered, if not repaired, by Eisenhower’s resignation. Or a fourth illness could settle the question immediately.

Behind the question, and the tragedy, stands probably the least known and potentially the most powerful figure of our time. In every political argument, in the most casual street-corner chat, VicePresident Nixon is an invisible by-stander, listening avidly. If the American future belongs to anyone it belongs to a man whom nobody pretends to understand.

Articulate in words, silent in real communication, skilful in management hut never infringing on the presidency, admired by some, liked by hardly anyone on Capitol Hill, growing steadily in public posture but changing no one knows how much in private character and altogether the mystery man of this era, Nixon has every chance to be the next president.

He may well be president in the current term. If not, he will almost certainly be the Republican candidate in 1960. Since the Democratic Party has yet to find a winning alternative—Adlai Stevenson’s mileage being used up and Johnson, the obvious choice, being handicapped if not barred by a coronary thrombosis chillingly like Eisenhower’s first illness —Nixon must be a formidable candidate indeed.

No wonder that the departing Russian ambassador, Georgy Zarubin, calls not on the president but on Nixon to take home with him his impressions of a future antagonist.

What kind of president Nixon would make no one knows, not even Nixon. Who, in the spring of 1945, foresaw a great president in the haberdasher from Missouri? Who, in the “crusade” of 1952, foresaw the last years of Eisenhower?

The man of tragedy made Nixon and willed the presidency to him. When Nixon was in campaign-fund trouble Eisenhower rescued him with the fatherly cry: “That’s my boy!” It was the gesture of a great-hearted comrade. But perhaps it was tragic, too. ★