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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Kasey Pipes

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Kasey Pipes

Last Build Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2007 08:30:05 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Ike: The Forgotten Conservative

Mon, 26 Mar 2007 08:30:05 -0600

Previous books on this the most controversial aspect of Ike's storied career have given him little credit and less understanding. Some books portray him as indifferent to civil rights. He wasn't. Others paint him as almost opposing it. He didn't. Rather, the question for him was how best to reach a more just society. "Ike's Final Battle" shows Eisenhower was largely in harmony with the goals of civil rights movement, if not in melody. Theirs was a liberal movement that sought dramatic change. His was a conservative administration that desired incremental progress. Even today in some quarters, to call Ike a conservative is blasphemy. Indeed, much of the conservative establishment of today took root in the 1950s. National Review was first published in 1955, for example. And in the first year of Ike's presidency, scholar Russell Kirk exhumed Edmund Burke from his grave and brought him to life in a book called The Conservative Mind. In it, Kirk told American conservatives that they should look to the eighteenth-century British statesman for inspiration. One of the interesting attributes of Burke's legacy is that he espoused a set of broad principles, but refrained from endorsing a specific ideology. That is, Burke didn't have a conservative philosophy so much as he had a conservative mindset. He saw conservatism not as an agenda of issues but as an approach with which to deal with issues as they developed. Eisenhower, though he might not have been a political conservative, was certainly a personal one. Like Burke, he believed in organic evolution, the idea that change happens over time, step by step. When Burke spoke of the "wisdom of the ancients," he cautioned that decades and centuries of tradition and reverence for institutions should not be disregarded overnight. Like a coral reef, society is built up over centuries, eventually becoming a wave-resistant sanctuary for life. And perhaps nowhere was Ike's conservatism more evident than on civil rights. His journey on the issue began during World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. Here, needing more troops to send to the front, Ike went against War Department policy and encouraged African-American soldiers in the Supply Service to train for combat and be treated "without regard to color or race...." Many responded. And served well. Ike took note and later told an African-American aide during the 1952 presidential campaign that he was inspired by the heroic service of black troops in World War II. "They fought nobly for their country," he said. "And I will never forget." But if World War II changed Ike, it also changed America. African-Americans who went to the front of the line in battle weren't eager to go to the back of the bus in Birmingham. The civil rights movement gained new momentum. By the time Eisenhower ran for president, a civil rights revolution was building as new claims were made for equal rights in government, in business and in public schools. Eisenhower's conservatism can perhaps best be seen in the actions he took over the course of his presidency in handling civil rights. Even though he preferred the velvet cords of persuasion to the iron bonds of law, as president he did pursue gradual change. First, Ike desegregated the District of Columbia. Having full constitutional power over the nation's capitol, he effectively ended decades of segregation. He even pressured Hollywood executives to open up their DC theaters on a color-blind basis. They did. Second, Ike desegregated the military. In response to Truman's executive order in 1948, many in the military had dragged their heels. Eisenhower used his military aura to help finish the job of creating a desegregated military. Interestingly, Truman's executive order in many ways can be traced back to Ike's decision at the Battle of the Bulge, which proved that African-Americans were just as brave as any soldiers. Third, Ike weighed in on Brown v. the Board of Education. He had mixed feelings about the case, worrying about the size and scope of it. But he agreed to let Attorney General Herbert Brownel[...]