Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first U.S. president I knew of (I was an infant during the Truman administration), and I liked him. He was Pennsylvania Dutch, like my father, and seemed to my youthful mind to be a proper President. Growing up in a household with one parent a Republican and the other a Democrat, I wound up with zero interest in politics per se until my collegiate years, when the events of the late 60s commanded my attention.
As a blogger, I've posted a smattering of information about him - most remarkably the fact that during his tenure as a conservative Republican, the top marginal income tax rate was 91%, and most memorably his televised "farewell warning" to the nation.
I learned more about him yesterday  from an article in The New Republic, which mused about why today's Republicans seldom mention him:
Conservatives had expected that Eisenhower, as the first Republican president since 1932, would repeal the New Deal; instead he augmented and expanded programs like Social Security, thereby giving them bipartisan legitimacy as well as added effectiveness. Conservatives had expected that the president would support Senator Joseph McCarthy’s crusade to tar all liberals as pro-Communist; instead he denied McCarthy the authority to subpoena federal witnesses and receive classified documents, thereby precipitating the red-baiter’s overreach and fall.Some day I should read a full biography of him; I'm open to suggestions as to which one to choose.
Eisenhower governed as a moderate Republican. While he failed to take bold action against Southern segregation as Democratic liberals and Republican progressives urged him to do, he helped to cool the overheated partisan rhetoric of the preceding two decades and built a middle-of-the-road consensus that marginalized extremists of left and right. He was well aware that his moderation earned him the implacable enmity of GOP conservatives. As he put it, “There is a certain reactionary fringe of the Republican Party that hates and despises everything for which I stand.” But this did not greatly bother him, since he also believed that “their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
The conservative movement’s tablet-keepers have long memories, so it’s unsurprising that Ike has remained a devil figure for the right. What may seem more surprising is that at a moment when Republicans are posing as stalwart defenders of a balanced federal budget, they dismiss the example of the most fiscally conservative president of the past eighty years. Eisenhower balanced the budget three times in his eight years in office, a feat that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush came close to achieving. Ike cut federal civilian employment by 274,000 and reduced the ratio of the national debt to GNP, though not the absolute level of debt. The economy bloomed under his watch, with high growth, low inflation, and low unemployment.
But Eisenhower’s economic success matters little to today’s Republicans given his deviations from conservative orthodoxy. Ike disdained partisanship, praised compromise and cooperation, and pitched his appeals to independent voters. He approved anti-recessionary stimulus spending, extended unemployment compensation, and raised the minimum wage. He pioneered federal aid to education and created the largest public-works program in history in the form of the interstate highway system. He levied gasoline taxes to pay for the highway construction, and believed that cutting income taxes when the federal government was running a deficit would be an act of gross fiscal irresponsibility. The Republican presidential candidates who are beating the drum to bomb Iran are in stark contrast with Eisenhower’s refusal to intervene in Vietnam. And conservative hawks find something vaguely pinko about Ike’s drive to restrain the pace of the arms race and his famous warning about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.”
In fairness to today’s Republicans, Eisenhower’s values—prudence, pragmatism, reasonableness, frugality, and respect for the past—find little resonance on either side of our present partisan divide, or in American culture as a whole.
There's more at The New Republic, via The Dish.
Reposted from 2012 to add some new information.
In 2016 I posted Eisenhower, LeMay, Nimitz: "Hiroshima bombing unnecessary." Some interesting information there, especially in several comments by readers in the discussion thread.
But what prompted my repost this morning is an article in the April issue of The Atlantic about Eisenhower's views on civil rights. Herewith some excerpts.
At a White House stag dinner in February 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower shocked the new chief justice of the United States. Earl Warren was Eisenhower’s first appointment to the Supreme Court and had been sworn in just four months earlier. Only two months into his tenure, Warren had presided over oral arguments in the blockbuster school-segregation case Brown v. Board of Education. As of the dinner, the case was still under advisement. Yet Eisenhower seated Warren near one of the attorneys who had argued the case for the southern states, John W. Davis, and went out of his way to praise Davis as a great man. That alone would have made for an awkward evening. What happened next made it fateful. Over coffee, Eisenhower took Warren by the arm and asked him to consider the perspective of white parents in the Deep South. “These are not bad people,” the president said. “All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big black bucks.”
It was an appalling moment. Here was the president leaning on the chief justice about a pending case while using the racist terms of an overseer. Several of Eisenhower’s admirers have attempted to downplay the encounter, but reports confirm that he used racially charged language in private. The incident left such an impression that Warren recounted it in his memoirs some 20 years later. Ever decorous, he sanitized the slur from “black bucks” to “overgrown Negroes,” but in his biography, Super Chief, Bernard Schwartz, one of Warren’s confidants, recorded the actual phrase in all its rotten vinegar. Warren had been a prosecutor and a governor, and was no choirboy; he had heard bigoted language before. Yet as the chief justice, he embodied the impartiality of the entire federal judiciary. He was a man who believed in fairness and dignity. The president’s words had shaken him...
[after the Brown decision] Eisenhower pointedly refused to endorse it. Instead he delivered this bafflingly terse answer to a reporter’s question: “The Supreme Court has spoken, and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional process in the country. And I will obey.” There endeth the statement. Eisenhower offered no comment in support of racial equality, no expression of solidarity with African Americans, and no sign of agreement with the Court’s opinion...
...Eisenhower freely praised the Court’s decisions in other contexts, including, as a candidate, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), which invalidated President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the steel mills during the Korean War. And Eisenhower abandoned restraint and threw himself into causes that seemed closer to his heart than civil rights, such as the fight for a balanced budget. During violent melees in protest of Brown, Eisenhower temporized, speaking in private of the need to “understand the southerners as well as the Negroes,” and denouncing “extremists on both sides”—a familiar equivalence that elevated racist mobs to the status of civil-rights marchers...
Sadly, if every president forfeits all civil-rights recognition by using racist language in the ugly spirit of his age, then Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson must go as well. Eisenhower acted to desegregate the armed forces and took strong steps to desegregate Washington, D.C. After procrastinating, he decisively enforced Brown by sending federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to face down Governor Orval Faubus. The president lent his support, with mixed success, to the effort to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957...
Eisenhower believed in incremental change, driven by social progress rather than law. He demanded intolerable levels of patience from African Americans, who had already waited centuries for equality. Warren, by contrast, recognized that America’s formative pathology—its racism—was a terminal cancer that must be dealt with urgently. He engineered the boldest stroke against segregation since Reconstruction.