Newton, 48, the editor-at-large of The Los Angeles Times, where his work appears weekly on the op-ed page, did not know much about Dwight E. Eisenhower. Born in 1963, Newton said he could remember hearing about Ike occasionally during the Lyndon Johnson presidency and watching Eisenhower’s televised funeral in 1969.
Newton spoke Thursday night in the visitors center auditorium of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum and consented to an interview before his formal remarks. Newton’s book, “Eisenhower: The White House Years” was released Oct. 4.
From his research, Newton has grown to admire Ike. When Newton goes elsewhere, to places such as San Francisco, Los Angeles or Austin, Texas, he still gets the occasional comment that Eisenhower was a World War II hero, a nice guy, but was aloof as president and preferred playing golf to governing.
“There is still a large chunk that think of him as a detached CEO,” Newton said. “They are wrong. I hope this book helps to explain this to people who have this mis-impression of him.”
Newton visited the archives over the past four years. As more information is known about Ike it allows people to get a greater glimpse about the nation’s 34th president. Newton’s research has indicated Eisenhower was a leader who followed his own principles and trusted loyal assistants to carry out the details. That was the way Ike was as a general and he carried that to his presidency.
Newton said those eight years, when taken in their totality from 1953-61, were unprecedented in the 20th Century. Ike ended fighting in Korea, had eight years of peace, provided a balanced budget, oversaw a growing economy, built a bridge on civil rights and worked in a bipartisan way. The journalist and book writer says Ike’s message about bipartisanship and solving problems is timeless.
He said that message needs to be put on center stage again. He believes that is why Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961 as he warned about the mentality of the “military-industrial complex” has been referred to by both parties.
This is the second book Newton has penned about Eisenhower.
He had written a book about the relationship between Eisenhower and former Chief Justice Earl Warren – “Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made.” Eisenhower nominated the former three-time California governor as chief justice and he presided over the court from October 1953 to June 1969. He followed Fred Vinson.
Eisenhower and Warren disliked for each other, yet they did have a respect for each other. Ike called Warren his greatest disappointment. Warren wrote unflattering remarks about Eisenhower’s personal views on race relations. However, the picture is murky due to the social norms of that time, Newton said.
Ike served in a segregated military. Newton did not believe Eisenhower was a racist or a bigot.
“Eisenhower could make a crude remark and do noble work,” Newton said.
He supported the work of Attorney General Herb Brownell who believed strongly in civil rights and desegregation.
Eisenhower did not know Warren well, except that he appeared to be a centrist Republican, but he was a progressive California Republican who believed in universal health insurance. He respected Warren as a politician. Both men had sought the 1952 GOP nomination, which was eventually won by Ike. Warren as governor championed a gasoline tax to finance construction of roads. Both were issues that traditional Republicans did not support. Ike, though, borrowed the idea and championed it to finance the Interstate Highway System.
Eisenhower had considered Warren for an appointment to his cabinet following the 1952 election but opted not to. He did offer the position of solicitor’s general, which Warren agreed to accept. However, when Vinson unexpectedly died, it forced Ike to act quickly and he asked Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to consider the post but Dulles declined. Eisenhower turned to Brownell and who recommended Warren. Ike offered the appointment and Warren accepted on Sept. 30, 1953.
Warren did not attend any of the Senate confirmation hearings because he did not want to appear to be political.
“Hard to imagine (that happening) today,” he said.
Ike and Brownell, as well as Warren, knew the critical issue before the nation’s highest court was the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education about desegregation of public schools. Newton said under the Vinson court there was not a strong consensus to move it forward. The appointment of Warren changed the dynamics of the court. During Ike’s presidency he appointed five justices, and Newton said those appointments, while they had political differences, did push forward civil rights.
While Ike himself was an optimistic American, he did not believe that the country should be forced to take on social issues, rather the country should work through them. In the end he accepted the decisions of the Warren court and his sense of duty led him to uphold the court decisions, particularly by sending federal troops to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce the decision. Ike worried that forcing desegregation in the end could mean the closing of schools and education was an important personal issue to the president. Those opposed to the decision might close schools, which limited educational opportunities for Americans, rather than accept imposed desegregation.
“Ike was proven right,” Newton said.
Newton said one of his highlights was getting to meet Ike’s son, John S.D. Eisenhower. It was John Eisenhower who told him succinctly: “My dad was a commander in chief,” whether in the military or as a president. John Eisenhower said he was not a social activist. That comment was prophetic and consistent in Newton’s assessment of Ike’s presidency.
If Eisenhower was alive today he would be concerned about the impact long-term debt would have on the nation’s economy. The centrist Republican understood that in the short run deficits could be necessary to work through a crisis, but there should be limitations. He was unlikely to view favorably the partisanship that has gripped Washington in recent years.
One of Ike’s hallmarks was his ability to understand international affairs. Because of his World War II experience he was reluctant to engage the military into settling international matters. During his presidency he grew worried about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Newton stayed afterward to sign copies of his book.
The Arts Council of Dickinson County Literary Committee provided refreshments.
The program is part of a 50-year retrospective on the Eisenhower administration in conjunction with the “Eisenhower: Agent of Change” temporary exhibit on display through Jan. 29.