Ike and Dick
Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage Paperback
by Jeffrey Frank
(Click for Amazon book review)
OnTheIssues.org BOOK REVIEW:
This book covers the Eisenhower-Nixon relationship for "nearly twenty years", from the 1952 presidential campaign through Nixon's resignation in 1974. The phrase "nearly twenty years" is right on the cover flap; but the book also briefly includes the post-WWII period prior to 1952 (when Nixon was running for Congress and Senate, and Eisenhower was president of Columbia University). This book was published in 2013, and hence was written as an historical retrospective, rather than a political analysis. The author, Jeffrey Frank, is a political novelist and editor for The New Yorker, rather than a political pundit; that gives this book a very different perspective than most political retrospectives.
The book explores in detail the political relationship between Ike and Nixon, including both the standard well-known tidbits as well as the lesser-known details. The useful aspect of this book is that it explore nuances of the standard tidbits that the mainstream media just gloss over. Some of the well-known tidbits with the author's added nuance:
Frank's final chapter, "What Happened Next" (chapter 31), provides the books denouement in the context of Watergate and Nixon's resignation in 1974. Ike had died 5 years earlier, but his brother Milton comments, "I'm glad that the President did not live to see the things that man did," implying that Eisenhower would have reverted to further coldness in the wake of Nixon's Watergate involvement. Frank concludes, "It is natural to wonder whether Watergate and all of its tributaries would ever have materialized if the patriarch had lived beyond the first two months of the Nixon presidency" (p. 343).
1952 Checkers speech: After Ike selected Nixon as his vice-presidential running-mate in 1952, Nixon was accused of misappropriating campaign funds from a previous campaign. This book dedicates a whole chapter to this episode, entitled "The Greatest Moment of my Life" (chapter 4). In his famous "Checkers speech," Nixon explained to the nation the issue, citing "Checkers," a cocker spaniel given as a gift to his daughter. The empathy and humanity of the "Checkers" speech is credited with saving Nixon's position as V.P., and has been used as the archetype for effective scandal management ever since. That's the well-known tidbit; Frank then explores the "class-conscious accusation" in the speech (p. 54), where Nixon compares his modest means to the wealth of Eisenhower's opponent, Adlai Stevenson. The class-conscious aspect is epitomized by Nixon's phrase that his wife wears a "respectable Republican cloth coat" instead of a "mink coat" (p. 53); this class-consciousness echoes long into Nixon's 1960 race against Jack Kennedy, another politician who inherited great wealth. The JFK-Nixon relationship is not explored in this book, since it does not involve Ike, but astute political readers will appreciate the background context, that Nixon did not invent the class-consciousness attack for JFK in 1960, but had already field-tested it in 1952.
1956 "Dump Nixon" movement: Many rumors have persisted for many decades that Ike wanted to replace Nixon on the 1956 presidential ticket. Frank contributes his share to the rumors in this book, dedicating a chapter entitled "Survivor" (chapter 11); in summary, Nixon outmaneuvered Eisenhower and saved his position. Frank's nuanced contribution on this issue is to describe some inside details of the cold personal relationship between the two men; he says that Eisenhower "never invited the Nixons inside… the living quarters of the White House" (p. 233).
1960 election: Chapter 18, entitled "If You Give Me a Week, I Might Think of One," details the lack of Eisenhower's active participation in Nixon's 1960 campaign against JFK. The chapter title refers to Eisenhower's response to a reporter's question about Nixon's ideas as vice president; Ike's unenthusiastic response has been a standard well-known tidbit ever since. Frank explores in this book much more nuance: that Ike tried to maintain an aloofness from campaigning, and his near-universal popularity perhaps allowed that aloofness.
- 1968 Eisenhower-Nixon marriage: Nixon's daughter Julie married Ike's grandson David Eisenhower in 1968, after Nixon had been elected President and before he took office. This too gets a full chapter in Frank's book, "Family Ties," (chapter 27). Frank explores the relationship of Ike's wife Mamie to the Nixons here as well (since Ike himself passed away only a few months later, living just long enough to see his V.P. inaugurated as President in January 1969).
Overall, this book provides an enormous amount of context for both Nixon's and Eisenhower's presidency, and some useful historical personal information about their personalities and families too. It is not the most useful book for understanding policy analysis, but that is not its purpose. And it will not be a favorite of political pundits, because its purpose is more for historical pundits -- but for typical citizens who want to understand Nixon and Eisenhower and their relationship, this book is top-notch.
-- Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief, OnTheIssues.org, April 2014
| OnTheIssues.org excerpts: (click on issues for details)
Budget & Economy|
Dwight Eisenhower: 1961: Kennedy is transforming government into Santa Claus.
Richard Nixon: 1954: Racially integrated schools as model for rest of world.
Richard Nixon: 1970s: Supported national health insurance.
Richard Nixon: 1947: Served in HUAC, House Un-American Activities Committee.
Richard Nixon: 1954: criticized McCarthyism as unfair and destructive.
Principles & Values|
Dwight Eisenhower: Born Mennonite; raised Jehovah's Witness.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1950: Recruited for President while head of Columbia Univ.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1960: Give me a week to think of one Nixon idea.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1964: Did not endorse GOP nominee Barry Goldwater.
Richard Nixon: 1945: Answered "want ad" to run for Congress.
Richard Nixon: OpEd: Makes reasonable assertions as if controversial.
Richard Nixon: 1946: Permanent campaign & anti-Communism won 1st House seat.
Richard Nixon: 1960: Candidacy supported by Eisenhower, but not on hustings.
Richard Nixon: 1965: Encouraged young graduates to run for Congress.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1957: Anyone want to go to the moon? I don't.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1957: Space agency within Department of Defense.
Richard Nixon: 1957: Non-defense agency for peaceful space research.
War & Peace|
Dwight Eisenhower: Tac nukes to defend Taiwan from China.
Dwight Eisenhower: 1966: Any action to win in Vietnam, even nukes.
Dwight Eisenhower: LBJ should formulate a "more sensible" policy on Vietnam.
Lyndon Johnson: 1966: Sought support for Vietnam War from Pres. Eisenhower.
Pat Buchanan: Wrote Nixon's Vietnam speech that led to Kent State killings.
Richard Nixon: 1954: Communists understand nothing but massive retaliation.
Welfare & Poverty|
Richard Nixon: 1970s Family Security Plan: national income guarantee.
The above quotations are from Ike and Dick
Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage Paperback
by Jeffrey Frank.
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