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THE PRESIDENCY by HUGH SIDEY: The Last of the Eisenhowers

4 minute read

He has the microwave smile that warms another person without heat. His feeling for America is long and loving. Milton Eisenhower, the last of that remarkable cluster of Kansas boys, turned 80 the other day and wished he could sculpt a U.S. President out of proven parts. He would weld his brother Dwight’s heart bone to Franklin Roosevelt’s head bone. What a work of political art that might be, he chuckles.

“No one matched Dwight Eisenhower in his love of people and his belief in people,” said Milton. “He possessed great honesty and he had no selfish pur pose. F.D.R. was a master at communicating with the people. They believed him. And then he possessed great optimism. The people learned to believe in themselves and they were able to overcome their troubles.”

Milton Eisenhower knows that the political environment is a lot more complicated today than it was 20 years ago. “The whole system of electoral government is on serious trial,” he said. He worries particularly about the fact that we in the U.S. are making politics a life time career. The search for “electoral immortality,” he calls it. “Those in Congress know the causes of inflation,” he insisted, “but the solutions are unpopular politically. They vote for reelection, not what helps the nation.”

Eisenhower would like to see congressional terms limited and he is an advocate of the single six-year presidential term. Such restrictions might, in his view, restore a higher degree of courage to our process. “We should have had energy ra tioning three years ago,” he said. “I mean the right kind of rationing that would cut waste.”

Many of those who were swept into office by the professional tactics developed in recent years, says Eisenhower, come to Washington with “the assumption that they don’t dare be truthful” about the great questions facing the nation. The presidential selection process of dozens of state primaries preceding the conventions is also on the Eisenhower list of political abominations. He sees political maneuver being placed over purpose.

“We are guaranteed that we are not going to get the kind of person we need.” he declared.

In the White House a President wastes half his time on trivia, Eisenhower estimates. He recalls his brother’s being constantly interrupted by a tap on the Oval Office door followed by an invasion of the alfalfa growers or some such organization. Roosevelt once told Milton Eisenhower: “In this job you have a hundred responsibilities each day. You can redeem only four or five of them . . .

You must make choices that are not very happy.”

Milton Eisenhower, diplomat and scholar, collected his wisdom from ser vice with eight Presidents. He wrote messages for Calvin Coolidge, was a global troubleshooter for Roosevelt and worked a bit for John Kennedy, long enough so that he came to believe J.F.K. would have been a great President if he had lived.

Eisenhower believes that historians are already beginning to view Dwight with more appreciation. One of the reasons, he thinks, is Dwight’s understanding of power and its consequences, and his firsthand knowledge of the people who ran the world in his day. Experience, suggests Milton Eisenhower, lies at the heart of successful leadership.

That kind of experience must be founded on deep wonder and humility, gen erated by an appreciation of the special blessings granted the U.S. His memory of his Abilene childhood is vivid and it still guides him. “Responsibility became as much a part of our being as eating and sleeping,” he said. It seemed just right last Wednesday night when Milton Eisenhower, No. 1 Baltimore Orioles fan, threw out the first baseball in the last game of the World Series. The Orioles lost, but he is already cheering for next year.

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