Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Recent Tweets @
Posts tagged "Dwight D. Eisenhower"

While the matchmaking attempts of George H. W. Bush in 1970 failed to unite the Nixon and Bush families, the Nixons had already been connected by marriage to another Presidential family.

During the 1957 Inaugural Parade following the swearing-in of Dwight D. Eisenhower to a second term as President, cameras captured a young boy and young girl smiling at each other in the Presidential viewing grandstand. The girl was named Julie and she was the youngest daughter of the Vice President Richard Nixon. The boy was President Eisenhower’s grandson, David (the namesake of the Presidential retreat, Camp David).

While attending colleges near each other after Eisenhower left the Presidency and Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 election to succeed Ike, Julie and David reconnected and began spending time together. Although General Eisenhower worried that David and Julie were rushing into a relationship, it continued moving quickly. In 1967, David and Julie were engaged to be married.

On December 22, 1968, less than two months after Richard Nixon was elected President, David and Julie were married. By the time of the wedding, General Eisenhower’s was in Walter Reed Hospital, where he would remain until his death in March 1969. Since Ike couldn’t attend his grandson’s wedding in person, a closed-circuit television link was set up so he and his wife, Mamie, could watch the nuptials from the General’s hospital room. The video feed failed, but the Eisenhowers were able to listen to the ceremony which linked the two families. David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower remain married to this day.

•This is an Historically Accurate Transcription featuring President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Polly Thompson, and Helen Keller.

THOMPSON: Mr. President, I’d like to introduce you to Helen Keller.
EISENHOWER: She can’t hear me, right?
THOMPSON: No, sir.
EISENHOWER: Okay, so, why the fuck is she sticking her hand all up in my face?
THOMPSON: She can’t see you, sir.
EISENHOWER: Oh, good, so I can stop smiling like an idiot while I get pie-faced? 
THOMPSON: I guess so.
EISENHOWER: I still don’t understand why she’s rubbing her hand all over my face — it’s not like I’m wearing a Braille tattoo of my name as a mustache.
THOMPSON: It’s her way of getting to know you, sir.
EISENHOWER: Why couldn’t we have an intern just pretend to be me while she did her thing? Or Nixon? It’s not like she would ever know.
THOMPSON: I was actually wondering the same thing. That’s what most people do.
EISENHOWER: I guess I have nothing better to do than stand here while this woman smushes her hand in my face. I’m a goddamn five-star General! I liberated Europe! This isn’t exactly dignified.
THOMPSON: She’ll stop soon, Mr. President.
EISENHOWER: And then what? We just stand here quietly while she bumps into shit? Oh, that’s a much better use of my time.
THOMPSON: She’s enjoying it.
EISENHOWER: Of course she is! I’d think it was fun to just shove my hand in people’s faces, too. (To his aide) Hey, I’ve got an idea…
AIDE: Yes, sir?
EISENHOWER: Get a ladder. I’ll climb about halfway up and THEN we’ll see what she feels…and what the Supreme Commander in my pants feels!
AIDE: I don’t think that’s appropriate, Mr. President.
EISENHOWER: Yeah, you’re right, this is a far more appropriate use of the President of the United States. I wish I was smoking a giant cigar. Then we’d see how long she needed to “get to know me”.
THOMPSON: Okay, that’s all. Thank you, Mr. President.
EISENHOWER: (While leaving) Ridiculous! I haven’t felt that violated since I shook hands with Joe McCarthy. Hey, don’t let her break anything expensive on her way out…
HELEN KELLER: (Laughing after Eisenhower leaves) I can’t believe I’m still getting away with doing that! I’m not even really blind or deaf! I just think it’s fucking hilarious. NICE HAIR, IKE!

•This is an Historically Accurate Transcription featuring President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Polly Thompson, and Helen Keller.

THOMPSON: Mr. President, I’d like to introduce you to Helen Keller.
EISENHOWER: She can’t hear me, right?
THOMPSON: No, sir.
EISENHOWER: Okay, so, why the fuck is she sticking her hand all up in my face?
THOMPSON: She can’t see you, sir.
EISENHOWER: Oh, good, so I can stop smiling like an idiot while I get pie-faced?
THOMPSON: I guess so.
EISENHOWER: I still don’t understand why she’s rubbing her hand all over my face — it’s not like I’m wearing a Braille tattoo of my name as a mustache.
THOMPSON: It’s her way of getting to know you, sir.
EISENHOWER: Why couldn’t we have an intern just pretend to be me while she did her thing? Or Nixon? It’s not like she would ever know.
THOMPSON: I was actually wondering the same thing. That’s what most people do.
EISENHOWER: I guess I have nothing better to do than stand here while this woman smushes her hand in my face. I’m a goddamn five-star General! I liberated Europe! This isn’t exactly dignified.
THOMPSON: She’ll stop soon, Mr. President.
EISENHOWER: And then what? We just stand here quietly while she bumps into shit? Oh, that’s a much better use of my time.
THOMPSON: She’s enjoying it.
EISENHOWER: Of course she is! I’d think it was fun to just shove my hand in people’s faces, too. (To his aide) Hey, I’ve got an idea…
AIDE: Yes, sir?
EISENHOWER: Get a ladder. I’ll climb about halfway up and THEN we’ll see what she feels…and what the Supreme Commander in my pants feels!
AIDE: I don’t think that’s appropriate, Mr. President.
EISENHOWER: Yeah, you’re right, this is a far more appropriate use of the President of the United States. I wish I was smoking a giant cigar. Then we’d see how long she needed to “get to know me”.
THOMPSON: Okay, that’s all. Thank you, Mr. President.
EISENHOWER: (While leaving) Ridiculous! I haven’t felt that violated since I shook hands with Joe McCarthy. Hey, don’t let her break anything expensive on her way out…
HELEN KELLER: (Laughing after Eisenhower leaves) I can’t believe I’m still getting away with doing that! I’m not even really blind or deaf! I just think it’s fucking hilarious. NICE HAIR, IKE!

"Why, this fellow don’t know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday…" — Harry S Truman, on Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1950

"Truman didn’t know any more about government than a dog knows about religion." — Dwight D. Eisenhower, on Harry S Truman, 1953

You know, before we had this meeting I thought Goldwater was just stubborn. Now I am convinced that he is just plain dumb.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, on Barry Goldwater, after meeting with him during Goldwater’s campaign for the 1964 Republican Presidential nomination
I might've sent this before, but I'm curious - do you think the fact Richard Nixon was the only former or current president alive in 1974 influenced the reaction to the Watergate scandal? Truman, Eisenhower and Johnson had all died in his term in office, so I was thinking if they had somehow survived, could there have been less fallout for the presidency?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I doubt it would have made much of a difference.  Truman and LBJ were Democrats and would have distanced themselves from Nixon — particularly Truman, who hated Nixon (“Richard Nixon is a no-good lying bastard.  He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he’d lie just to keep his hand in,” is just one of the many things Truman said about Nixon).  Even though Eisenhower and Nixon had grown closer personally towards the end of Ike’s life (helped in part by the marriage of Nixon’s daughter to Eisenhower’s grandson), I imagine the General would have kept his distance, too, had he been alive during Watergate.  Although all three of those Presidents you mentioned (Truman, Eisenhower, and LBJ) taped phone conversations and some meetings in the White House, they didn’t cover up crimes while being taped. Had any other Presidents been alive at the time, I don’t think it would have helped Nixon.

In fact, it might have hurt him even more.  It might have been a case where one or all of those former Presidents spoke out and said, “Hey, you are tarnishing the office of the Presidency and you need to go,” and it would have dealt Nixon a devastating blow.  After all, it wasn’t until Republican leaders of Congress came to the White House and told Nixon that they couldn’t support him and that he was going to be impeached that he finally stepped down.  Had Truman, Eisenhower, or LBJ been alive, they might have had the gravitas to nudge him out of office even more quickly.

By the way, LBJ had some prophetic words in 1969 after Nixon was inaugurated as President:  ”I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad…(Nixon’s) like a Spanish horse who runs faster than anyone for the first nine lengths and then turns around and runs backwards.  You’ll see — he’ll do something wrong in the end.  He always does.”

If the Republicans will stop telling lies about us, we will stop telling the truth about them.

Adlai E. Stevenson, during his unsuccessful 1952 Presidential campaign against Dwight D. Eisenhower

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What are your thoughts on the Taft vs. Eisenhower rivalry? Do you have any good books or other academic resources to research this particular duo's interactions with each other?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The rivalry between General Eisenhower and Robert Taft was certainly interesting.  Because of Eisenhower’s popularity and his relatively easy victories over Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, it’s forgotten that Taft was such a contender for the Republican nomination in 1952 before it became clear that Eisenhower was making a bid for the Presidency.  Taft really felt that it was his turn and that he deserved the nomination.  He looked at Eisenhower as a bit of a political carpetbagger — a career soldier who had said he had no interest in politics and hadn’t even officially declared which party he belonged to until shortly before he ran for President.  

Taft was a victim, of course, to Eisenhower’s immense popularity as the Allied commander during World War II.  But Taft was also a victim of television.  Eisenhower had that famous smile and a quirky charisma, while Robert Taft was a really awkward-looking guy who didn’t come across well on television.  The 1952 Republican National Convention was the first political convention that was a major television event, and that definitely helped Ike and hurt Taft.  Bob Taft also came across as a cold, aloof figure who was highly-respected for his intellect, but not terribly exciting or special.  Not only did he not have the appeal or ability to connect with the American people that Eisenhower did, but he wasn’t even close to being as likable as his father, William Howard Taft.

With that said, Bob Taft was a formidable figure and Eisenhower could not take him lightly — not during the 1952 GOP Convention and not after Eisenhower’s election when he Ike had to try to mend their relationship since Taft remained Senate Majority Leader.  Taft never fully bought in to Eisenhower, but they also didn’t have much time.  Although Taft sought the Presidency and felt that he deserved to win it in 1952, he was probably already dying of stomach cancer at the time.  Senator Taft died on July 31, 1953, so if he had been elected, he would have been dead just over six months into his Presidency.  Despite their rivalry, President Eisenhower quickly realized that losing Taft’s leadership in the Senate was an early blow to his Administration’s legislative efforts and Taft’s absence allowed Joseph McCarthy to continue his reign of terror in the Senate for several more years.  

Asker Anonymous Asks:
This could sound odd I know but is it possible that the wedding between Eisenhower's grandson and Nixon's daughter was arranged? Seems like too much of a coincidance.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

You might have watched too many episodes of The Borgias.

No, I am pretty certain that it wasn’t an arranged marriage.  After all, look at this photo of young David and Julie from President Eisenhower’s second Inauguration in 1957:

image

You can’t fake that kind of love!  Plus, David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower are still together and happily married after all these years. 

I guess it’s a coincidence that they ended up together, but it’s not that odd.  After all, Nixon was Ike’s Vice President for eight years, so it makes sense that Nixon’s daughters would spend time with Eisenhower’s grandchildren since they were about the same age.  They started dating after Eisenhower left office and before Nixon was elected because they just happened to be going to school close to each other and decided to hang out.  Their relationship blossomed from there.  

In David Eisenhower’s book about his relationship with his grandfather during General Eisenhower’s final years, Going Home To Glory, he tells an interesting story about how he approached Ike to tell him that he was in love with Julie and that he was planning on marrying her.  Ike was wary about the union because David and Julie were so young at the time — both of them were only 20 years old.  Eisenhower also had some concerns about David marrying a Nixon — not so much because of any issue that Ike had with Nixon, but because David and Julie were married a month after Nixon was elected President and Ike worried about how the spotlight might affect their relationship.

General Eisenhower was dying at Walter Reed when David and Julie were married and couldn’t attend the wedding in person.  If I remember correctly, one of the television networks (maybe NBC), attempted to set up a closed-circuit television in Ike’s hospital room so that he could watch the wedding ceremony live from his hospital bed.  I don’t have the book nearby so my details might be off, but I believe the video feed didn’t work and Eisenhower couldn’t see the ceremony, but the audio was working and allowed him to listen to the wedding live.  Ike died just three months later.

(FYI:  Just on a personal note, young Julie Nixon Eisenhower was by far the hottest Presidential daughter in American history.  There is no system of rankings by historians to determine that, but my intensive research and impressive personal knowledge on the issue led me to a definitive conclusion on the subject.)  

Which presidents might have made a third term try if the 22nd Amendment had not been in place? Would Eisenhower, Reagan, or Clinton tried?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I have previously answered this question with more depth but can’t find it, so I apologize if this answer isn’t quite as good as the first time around.

All three of those Presidents that you mentioned absolutely loved being President.  Bill Clinton absolutely would have sought a third term if not for the 22nd Amendment.  I think he would have kept running for the Presidency until the day he died if there were no term limits.

Eisenhower and Reagan are a little bit tougher because of their age.  To this day, Reagan and Eisenhower (in that order) are the oldest Presidents in history upon leaving office.  If they were younger, I think both of them would definitely have run again.  

Reagan was just over two weeks shy of his 78th birthday when he left office and his official biographer, Edmund Morris, has noted that Reagan was clearly in failing health with what was probably the early stages of his Alzheimer’s Disease.  Although Reagan remained in the public eye until 1994, I doubt that he would have run again if there were no term limits.  He probably would have wanted to, but as protective as Nancy was of the President, I don’t think that she would have allowed it because she knew better than anyone the struggles that he was having with his memory and his energy in the last 18 months or so of his Presidency.

Eisenhower was 70 when he turned the White House over to JFK in 1961.  Again, if it were up to him, I’m sure Ike would have wanted to remain in office, particularly since he had such doubts about JFK and even about the GOP nominee in 1960, his own Vice President, Richard Nixon.  But like Reagan, eight years in the White House had taken a toll of Eisenhower’s health.  For a time, there were questions about whether he would run for reelection in 1956, and many of his closest aides and friends and even his influential brother Milton urged him not to.  In his first term, Ike had survived a significant heart attack and a brutal bout with ileitis which required emergency surgery.  Of course, Eisenhower did win a second term, but there were health scares in that term, as well, including a stroke.  Because of his health issues, I don’t think he would have sought a third term even if he were able to.

Beloved, highly-respected — even revered by many of the soldiers who served under him during World War II and many Europeans who felt indebted to him for leading the fight for their freedom from tyrannny — Dwight D. Eisenhower faced a problem not uncommon to Presidents and politicians.  At times, the former Supreme Allied Commander and 34th President of the United States mangled his words, stumbled over parts of his sentences, and made candid or rash statements that could sometimes cause minor embarrassments for certain people or his Administration as a whole.  

In another time and for another President, the phrase “Bushisms” was coined for such verbal missteps, but Eisenhower’s stature and a glare from his icy blue eyes convinced most of Ike’s aides not to worry about correcting the old General.  Plus, nobody could be sure exactly what Eisenhower might say while trying to remedy his mistake.  In one specific situation, something controversial that Ike had said would have been handled best if nobody — especially Eisenhower — tried to explain it.

In the summer of 1964, Eisenhower was enjoying his retirement, his role as an elder statesman, and his place as a potential King-maker within the Republican Party, yet he was lukewarm with the GOP’s eventual Presidential nominee, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.  Still, at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, General Eisenhower spoke of his support for the party’s nominee and bemoaned unrest in American cities that he saw leading to lawlessness.  Ike wanted a Republican Party platform and nominee who would be tough on crime and tougher on the growing population of criminals throughout the nation.

"Let us not be guilty," Eisenhower told the Convention, "of maudlin sympathy for the criminal who, roaming the streets with a switchblade knife…suddenly becomes a poor underprivileged person who counts upon the compassion of our society."

The former President’s words, in conjunction with the GOP’s nomination of Goldwater, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sounded alarm bells in the office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  The NAACP’s executive director Roy Wilkins quickly made a link between Eisenhower speech and Goldwater’s actions and agenda.  In an editorial column, Wilkins questioned what Ike really meant by what he said.  ”The phrase ‘switchblade knife’,” wrote Wilkins, “means ‘Negro’ to the average white American.”

Part of Eisenhower was angry at the conclusion reached by Wilkins while another part was disbelieving.  ”I didn’t associate switchblade knives with Negroes,” Eisenhower protested.  ”So I am going to have an aide write this fellow [Wilkins] and say, ‘Well, for God’s sake, that’s the last thing on my mind.’”

Had Eisenhower stopped there, it would have been a perfectly reasonable response that should have left Wilkins scrambling to apologize for being presumptive and attaching unnecessary racial connotations to the words of an immensely popular American leader who was respected around the world.

But…

"As a matter of fact," Eisenhower continued, "I thought switchblade knives were always — and I hope there are no Italians here — identified with Italians."

While many Presidents have been avid golfers, Dwight D. Eisenhower raised the profile of the sport so much during his time in office that he was posthumously inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.

Eisenhower was an active member of several exclusive golf clubs.  At Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, home of the Masters Tournament, members built a cabin for the President’s use and Ike visited 29 times during his Presidency.  The Eisenhower Cabin isn’t the only landmark at Augusta named after Ike.  On the 17th hole is the Eisenhower Tree — a pine tree Ike struck so many times with errant shots that he (unsuccessfully) suggested it be cut down.

Back in Washington, when President Eisenhower wasn’t on the putting green he installed at the White House he could often be found at the ultra-exclusive, ultra-expensive, all-male Burning Tree Club in nearby Bethesda, Maryland.  Despite Burning Tree’s hefty price tag for membership, the posh trappings didn’t extend to the lockers.  Ike’s locker was simply identified by an index card with “The President, U.S.A.” written in pencil.

Eisenhower wasn’t the only high-profile politician to enjoy the privileges of Burning Tree.  Ike’s Vice President Richard Nixon was also a member and, in 1954, it was actually Nixon who sponsored a Burning Tree membership for the man he would face for the Presidency in 1960 — John F. Kennedy.  Other Presidents who were members at Burning Tree included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush. 

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Do you think any presidents besides Clinton could/would have run for a third term? I've heard conflicting claims on both Eisenhower and Reagan. On a related note, do you think Truman or LBJ would have run again (in 1952 and 1968 respectively) had they won their initial brief primary attempts, or bowed out anyway?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think that Eisenhower and Reagan probably would have been tempted to seek a third term, if possible.  They both had health problems during their Presidencies, but I could see Eisenhower seeking a third term anyway.  He had a difficult time stepping away, which is one reason why he waited so long to give Richard Nixon a solid endorsement in 1960.  It wasn’t necessarily a lack of confidence in Nixon’s abilities, but partly because Ike felt that he (Ike) was still the best man for the job. 

Reagan, like Clinton, loved being President, too.  But when Reagan left office in 1989, he was about two weeks away from his 78th birthday and, according to his official biographer, Edmund Morris, there were signs that he may have been facing the early stages of his Alzheimer’s in the last few weeks of his Administration.  Since President Reagan looked relatively healthy and definitely looked fit for his age, it’s difficult for people to realize that he was almost a full eight years older than Eisenhower (70) was when Ike left office.  Even if Eisenhower had served another term, Ike still would have been four years younger than Reagan at the end of that third term.  I think Reagan’s age and deteriorating health would have prevented him from a third term if it was Constitutionally possible.  As closely as his public image was protected by Nancy Reagan, there is no way she would have stood by while he hung on for another term and publicly started to suffer from serious Alzheimer’s symptoms.

An interesting thing is that, if they had the opportunity to run for a third term and their health allowed it, I think Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton all would have been easily elected to another term.  I think George W. Bush would have had a much more difficult time with seeking a third term, if possible.  However, I don’t think Bush would have run again even if he was Constitutionally eligible.  In those last few months of 2008, President Bush looked SO ready to get back to Texas.  Even if his chances of being re-elected were positive, I still think he would have chosen retirement instead of a third term.

As for the second part of your question, I think that Truman would have stepped away in 1952, no matter what.  All Truman ever wanted to do was remain a U.S. Senator.  When he was suggested as a potential Vice Presidential candidate, he was not interested, and when others reminded him that President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely wouldn’t survive the term, Truman declared that he didn’t want to be President either.  Of course, he was elected Vice President and as in the case of almost every VP who succeeds to the Presidency, once Truman got to the White House he wanted to be elected to a term in his own right.  Still, before Eisenhower declared that he was a Republican, Truman was suggesting that he (Truman) would be happy to step aside and be Eisenhower’s running mate if Ike wanted to run for President as a Democrat.  So, Harry Truman did not mind retiring home to Missouri in 1952, and I think he would have done so, no matter what.

LBJ’s case was different.  The fact that he was very nearly upset in the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary by Eugene McCarthy really shook President Johnson up and showed that he was vulnerable.  If there wasn’t a serious challenge from within his own party — first from McCarthy and then from RFK — LBJ would have stayed in that race in 1968.  Despite his withdrawal from the race, deep down LBJ still had a flicker of hope that the Democratic National Convention would be deadlocked, turn to the outgoing LBJ, draft him into the race, nominate him, and he’d be the conquering hero, vanquishing Nixon and bringing the Vietnam War to an end.  

LBJ was also a man of contradictions, though.  Throughout his life, he always said that he would die young because all of the men in his family died by the time they were 64 or 65.  As much as Johnson was addicted to power and craved the love of the American people (something that he never received like JFK did, which “broke his heart” according to Richard Nixon), he was also deeply worried that another four years in the White House would kill him.  Worse yet, he would suffer an incapacitating stroke like Woodrow Wilson.  LBJ often had a nightmare where he fell ill like Wilson and was an invalid — a shell of a once-powerful man bedridden or feebly being rolled through the White House in a wheelchair.  It was an macabre thing to think about, but it was something that frequently haunted President Johnson, especially because he had suffered a near-fatal massive heart attack in 1955 when he was Senate Majority Leader.  The confident, arrogant, impetuous, strong-willed LBJ wanted to take on Nixon and serve four more years in the White House.  The sensitive, insecure, depressed LBJ considered resigning, didn’t think he’d live through the next term (1969-1973), and often had to receive a pep talk from Lady Bird to get his act together and go to work.  So, with LBJ, it would actually depend on which LBJ you got on decision day when it comes to whether he would have sought a third term if not for the disastrous results of the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary.

By the way, Lyndon Johnson died on January 22, 1973.  If he had served a third term, it would have ended on January 20, 1973, just two days prior to the day that he actually died.

Interesting commentary by David Ignatius which suggests that President Obama should look to General Eisenhower and two really good recent books on Eisenhower’s Administration — Jean Edward Smith’s Eisenhower In War and Peace (BOOKKINDLE) and Evan Thomas’s Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle To Save the World (BOOKKINDLE) — for examples on how Ike delicately handled several crises in foreign relations and attempted to reign in potential excesses by the very American military that he had spent his entire career serving.