Rupert Cornwell: Why Republicans need another Ike to lead them

Out of America: Swearing eternal fealty to Reagan, presidential candidates try to outdo each other in an insane stampede to the right – leaving Obama delighted

Share
Related Topics

Across the country, Republicans are trying to choose a presidential candidate among four men they can't get very excited about, secretly wishing there was someone else. Here, one of those arcane arguments that excite the great and good of Washington is in full swing. It concerns an indubitably great Republican who served in the White House, and would be a perfect answer for his party's problems.

The fuss is over the planned memorial to Dwight Eisenhower, due to be ready in 2015 on a site close to the Washington Mall. Congress entrusted the project to Frank Gehry, responsible for, inter alia, the breathtaking Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Gehry's design calls for a park fronted by columns and bordered by 80-foot-tall metal tapestries depicting the Great Plains, and the modest home in Abilene, Kansas, where Ike grew up. His achievements as Supreme Allied Commander in the Second World War and then as the 34th US president would be illustrated in giant bas-relief.

Initial reactions to the proposal were favourable. Then the complaints began. The design, it was argued, placed too much stress on where he came from, and too little on what he did. Most galling, appar-ently, is the fact that the one actual statue of this towering 20th-century figure will show him not as general or president, but as a small boy.

The idea is reasonable: to convey "the dreams of a barefoot boy" that Eisenhower evoked in his speech to the citizens of Abilene in 1945, as the homecoming hero who'd organised the defeat of Nazi Germany. Because, he explained, "no man is really a man who has lost out of himself all of the boy". For critics, though, the concept is a travesty.

For what it's worth, I tend to agree. But happily, a wonderful new biography of Eisenhower has just appeared, reminding us just why a leader, long considered inept and out of touch and fonder of the golf course than in dealing with America's problems, is now ranked by many historians as one of the most admirable of modern presidents.

Jean Edward Smith in Eisenhower in War and Peace lauds Ike's role as Supreme Commander as he coped with the giant political egos of Roosevelt and Churchill above him, and the barely smaller ones of Montgomery, Patton and other subordinate generals. But it is Eisenhower's presidency that really comes into focus.

The accomplishments include the protection and expansion of social security, the creation of the interstate highway network, the founding of Nasa, and the racial integration of the military and of public schools. He ended the Korean War, and put a stop to the Anglo-French adventure at Suez. Yes, he made mistakes, such as his failure to take on Joseph McCarthy, the U-2 affair, and his support for the 1953 coup to overthrow Mossadegh in Iran which, to this day, stokes Iranian animosity to the US.

But after Korea, not a single American soldier died in action while he was in the White House. No one understands the horrors of war better than an old soldier; had he been president in 2001, Ike would have struck back at Afghanistan after 9/11, but he would never have blundered into a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.

Today, the Fifties have an imaginary golden aura of prosperity, simplicity and national concord. But part of that was due to Ike, as he took care to balance the budget, and work as smoothly with the Democrats in Congress as he did with the politicians and generals in the Second World War. And when he left office in 1961, he made that prophetic warning about the growth of the military-industrial complex, that now rings truer than ever.

Half a century after he left office, Republicans don't talk much about Eisenhower. Instead, they swear eternal fealty to Ronald Reagan. But what they surely need right now is another Eisenhower. Of course, he would be far too moderate for them – Eisenhower Republicans are as rare a species as One Nation Tories.

Wednesday saw what was probably the last 2012 candidates' debate. It was a real debate to be sure, but it did not break the pattern of this primary season – an insane stampede to the right, the quest to be the most perfect conservative of all, the insistence on a purity of faith St Ron himself could never aspire to.

Barack Obama is delighted as his opponents furnish quotes against each other that Democrats will use to devastating effect in the general election. And that's why there's talk of a brokered convention in Tampa, in which some dream of a new entrant (read Jeb Bush) riding to the rescue – even though Karl Rove, that unmatched reader of Republican tea leaves, says there's as much chance of this as of finding life on Pluto. That's why, if the hard-right social conservative Santorum wins the nomination, talk will grow of a third-party candidate, a deficit hawk who's moderate on social issues. That won't happen either. But if a temporary memorial to Ike belongs anywhere, it's at the entrance to the Tampa Bay Times Forum where August's proceedings will unfold.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own