Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oy, Bai

Matt Bai complained in the NYT Magazine on Sunday (yeah, as usual I'm a bit behind on the Sunday papers)* about the proposed Ike Memorial, saying "I mean, Ike was a terrific general, but was he really one of our greatest presidents?"


Assuming we're talking here about just the world of public affairs (so leaving aside Louis Armstrong, Willie Mays, Martin Scorsese, Bob Mould, and other great Americans from other walks of life), are your really going to top Ike? Let's see...for the twentieth century, the consensus Greatest President is certainly FDR, and there's probably something very close to a consensus that King is the greatest non-president. Both have memorials. But I think an excellent case can be made for Ike as a logical third choice.

First, his value added as president. It's pretty high. The consensus of academic and other expert surveys puts him at 5th among 20th century presidents, behind FDR, TR, Wilson, and Truman. Since I think Wilson belongs somewhere, er, below that...I think you can make an argument that Ike is in a group for #2, and it's hard to argue he's much lower than 5th. That's pretty good! But then his value added outside of his presidency is extremely high for a president. Not, I'd say, as high as King. But in a group there of the other important non-presidents of the twentieth century, along with Warren, Humphrey...I don't know; pick your favorites. Want to argue Thurgood Marshall? George Marshall? Fine, but Ike is going to be at the very least in the running for top ten -- this, again, just for outside of his presidency. No? (Remember, we're just considering public affairs, so no  So we have a top-five president who may well be top-five for outside of his presidency as well. Certainly puts him above, say, Truman and TR, not to mention Wilson, at least unless you put a lot of emphasis on having a pre-political career as a political scientist.

Now, I can understand an argument that warriors should be de-emphasized in our political culture, but that would be a real change, for better or worse. And Bai's concerns about Taft notwithstanding, I don't think we've really gone overboard on twentieth century figures, at least so far. So, yeah, Ike seems like a pretty reasonable choice to me. I don't know that it's necessary for him to have a major memorial, but neither do I think of him as a marginal case to celebrate in some serious way.

*Sorry, couldn't find a link to it; it's just a short little thing on the one-page magazine page.


  1. Oh, yeah. I like Ike. Consider:

    And then there's that bit in his 1957 inaugural address where he warns us about political instability in the Middle East making that oil a bad thing to become dependent on.

    If you build it, I will come.

  2. Seriously, Ike is not where I would draw the line. Bai can write this piece when we're building a monument on the Mall for Coolidge, Ford, or Carter.


    top right

  4. As a student of Erwin Hargrove, I would add that Ike's real value as president was that, as the first GOP president after 20 years of Democratic presidencies, was as a 'president of consolidation'--Ike didn't repudiate the New Deal, as say a Taft might have. (Also why Ike is a RINO by today's base's standards.)

  5. I'd side with no memorial for Ike, but I'm generally the guy whose Hall of Fame ballot leaves a lot of blanks every year, too.

    I'm not sure what the relevant standards are. Rushmore lets TR up there. I'm a TR fan, so that doesn't grate on me too much, but I could certainly see an argument that if TR gets his head in granite, so does Ike. Personally, I put TR above Ike as president, so I'm OK with a line drawn right below TR that Ike is pushing up against.

    I think the Ike case is debatable. Bai isn't crazy on this. We don't say Ike in the same breath as Washington, Lincoln or Jefferson.

    For me, the best argument for keeping Ike out of a memorial is that once Ike gets one, Reagan's isn't far behind. And that would be a travesty, because it would be a monument to a president erected not because they were great, but because a silly little cult formed. Once Reagan gets one, there's no justification at all for not giving L. Ron Hubbard a monument.

  6. Coolidge was a fine President.

    I am lukewarm on Eisenhower. I can't help feel that he was America's Macmillan - competent and humane, but ultimately the bad farmer who sowed the seeds for future disaster.

  7. Ike had his good points, for sure . . . But ---

    He got us involved in Viet Nam. I think we came to regret that.

    He also was responsible for carrying out Churchill's scheme to overthrow the democratically elected governemnt in Iran. Winnie floated this idea to Truman, and he more or less told him to go to hell. As soon as Ike was in the White House he came back with it, and Ike and Dulles jumped on it.

    The Shah didn't do a lot of great things for the people he brutally oppressed. That is why we have the problem with Iran that lasts until now.

    Ike's foreign policy legacy was a total disaster, and we reap that bitter fruit to this very day.

    Sorry - monument.


  8. So basically you're saying he's the Joe Torre of 20th century public figures.

  9. Being a top 5 President of the 20th Century looks a lot less impressive when you realize the Presidents he's beating out are Taft, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton.

  10. Aren't state monuments supposed to have some purpose with regard to the public or national spirit? What values in our political culture and resonant accomplishments would an Eisenhower monument commemorate and communicate, JB? Shouldn't any case be made in those terms, not through heavy leaning on an academic survey of political scientific criteria? We have war memorials for obvious reasons. The Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson monuments have well-known associated narratives about certain American political and constitutional virtues. The MLK monument honors a very significant social movement. What void would an Eisenhower monument fill or new set of virtues would it honor?

    I'd also say that pointing semi-randomly to shortcomings under Eisenhower's admin isn't quite relevant: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, etc. all had major flaws and failures too. A positive case needs to be made for what relatively consensus attributes today's American political culture can honor through highlighting Eisenhower....

  11. ? I thought the interstate highway system was the Eisenhower memorial

  12. I like Ike, but I agree with Matt Jarvis and PF.

    If it were up to me, I'd construct a small memorial to Ike as an addition to the WWII memorial.

  13. There's like a bajillion Reagan things and he didn't even do anything notable.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?