What Conservatives Should Ask Themselves Every Day: What Would Dwight David Eisenhower Do?

These posts by Arnold Kling and Will Wilkinson prompt me to write up a post I’ve had in mind for a long time.

I don’t want to write a history paper here, so I’ll just share a few facts, and some quotes from Wikipedia to highlight the differences between Eisenhower’s prudence and responsibility,  and the past thirty years’ radical disciples of Reaganism.

The top marginal tax rate when Eisenhower came to office was 91% on incomes above $400K (about $3 million in today’s dollars). He didn’t change it. The tax rate for the lowest bracket did decline — from 22 to 20%. The effect: you basically couldn’t make more than $3 million a year during Eisenhower’s presidency. Anything above that went to the public good. We’ve seen the disastrous effect that had on GDP…

Eisenhower didn’t feel the need to radically dismember the New Deal that America had agreed on, or kowtow to right-wing wack-jobs:

Instead of adhering to the party’s right-wing orthodoxy, Eisenhower instead looked to moderation and cooperation as a means of governance.[74] This was evidenced in his goal of slowing the growth of New Deal/Fair Deal-era government programs, but not weakening them or rolling them back entirely.[74]

Eisenhower did not end New Deal policies, and in fact enlarged the scope of Social Security, and signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.

A la Lincoln, he invested huge government sums in public infrastructure — perhaps the most important single contributor to ensuing decades’ prosperity boom:

His subsequent experience with German autobahns during World War II convinced him of the benefits of an Interstate Highway System. Noticing the improved ability to move logistics throughout the country, he thought an Interstate Highway System in the U.S. would not only be beneficial for military operations, but be the building block for continued economic growth.[48]

He didn’t use his pulpit as he should have to denounce the despicable “you’re a traitor” tactics of McCarthyism (think: Tea Party), but he had the sense to know that they were despicable.

Eisenhower was criticized for failing to defend George Marshall from attacks by Joseph McCarthy, though he privately deplored McCarthy’s tactics and claims.[73]

He coined the term for, and deplored and warned against, the “military-industrial complex” that has dominated the American economy ever since:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” [78]

The very model of a modern major general, and of a true American conservative?



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2 responses to “What Conservatives Should Ask Themselves Every Day: What Would Dwight David Eisenhower Do?”

  1. jazzbumpa Avatar

    Which is why we’ve gone from hypotenuse to hyperbole.



  2. Chris T Avatar
    Chris T

    Kling isn’t really a conservative; more of a radical libertarian.