In the midst of all the turmoil surrounding #45, I’m thinking today about a different man: #34. What would he have thought of the current state of American politics?
Dwight David Eisenhower was the U.S. President from 1953 – 1961. He defeated Adlai Stevenson in a landslide. (The electoral vote was 442 to 89.) His campaign slogan, “I Like Ike,” caught on because, by and large, it was true. Ike was a very likeable guy.
Did you know that he had six brothers, and that all seven of the boys were nicknamed “Ike”? For some reason, his was the only one that stuck. It’s a good thing his nickname wasn’t “Dwi.” “I Like DWI” may be true for some people, but it isn’t a very good campaign slogan.
On our recent road trip from Arizona to New York, we stopped in Abilene, Kansas (Dwight’s hometown) after eight hours of driving. Just before entering the town, we passed a billboard advertising the Eisenhower Presidential Library.
Only a week or so before, our friends Kathy and Ray had mentioned that we should check out presidential libraries if we ever came across them in our travels. We decided to take their advice before leaving Abilene the next day.
But first, we had dinner at Joe Snuffy’s Old Fashioned Grill. If you’re ever in Abilene, Kansas, you really should grab a bite there. For a family diner, they have excellent wine! And food! And most of all — service! I can’t say enough about old Joe Snuffy’s. My favorite part was our teenaged server, who, like Frank Mills in the musical Hair, “resembles George Harrison of the Beatles.” He (our server) was very sweet, standing next to me while I took the first bite of my meal to make sure it was okay.
But back to Ike. At the Eisenhower Presidential Library, I learned a lot about #34’s life as a boy, man, and world leader. I even got to tour his childhood home, complete with all the original furnishings.
On the tour, I learned some surprising facts. The family was far from wealthy (they’d moved to Abilene with only $24 to their name). His mother was a former Mennonite who was opposed to war. His family valued education highly, but the only way Dwight could attend college was by going to a military school (West Point) where tuition was free.
The boys were assigned rotating chores, all learning to cook and to sew. Here’s the “dough box” where the Eisenhowers placed their bread dough to rise.
Although I know his Presidency is probably not without controversy, here are some of the positive things Dwight D. Eisenhower (a self-proclaimed “progressive conservative” and a Republican) managed to accomplish while President:
- continued and expanded New Deal social programs
- helped end McCarthyism
- signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (and sent Army troops to enforce school integration)
- authorized the Interstate Highway System
- promoted science education
- emphatically expressed his concerns about what he called the “military-industrial complex.”
In spite of all his achievements, Eisenhower once said that “the proudest thing I can claim is being from Abilene.” You’ve got to like that, especially when humility is in such short supply at the White House these days.