Guest Author - Stacy Wiegman
Because I grew up in Kansas, I was always a fan of President Eisenhower. He was not born in Kansas, but he grew up in Abilene, KS, and the Eisenhower Presidential Library is in Abilene. I visited it when I was a little girl.
As the leader of the international forces in World War II, Eisenhower had political experience before he ran for president. There were disagreements about the strategy in conquering the Axis forces in Europe and Northern Africa, but Eisenhower was able to build a consensus on the approach, which was critical because forces were limited. As it turned out, the Normandy Beach attack, while brutal in casualties, was a success, as was the outcome of the war.
After the war, Eisenhower was asked to run for president, which he accepted. His presidency was called lackluster by historians until more recently when papers he wrote were released by the presidential library. It was discovered that he worked a lot behind the scenes, often through others, delegating tasks that might make the president look too political when he needed to be a leader.
Remember that the president is not only the head of state, but he is also the leader of his party, and that second role can be sticky. To do what the party wants may not be popular or even effective for the president, and Eisenhower recognized that. To allay that contradiction, Eisenhower used delegation and sometimes even avoidance.
He wasn't a blustery leader like Teddy Roosevelt or Harry Truman. His tactics were more behind-the-scenes and quietly effective, resulting in high popularity ratings throughout his eight years in office. But it's this lack of a high profile that led to criticism as an ineffective president.
In comparison, John Kennedy was a highly charismatic president, but not necessarily a very effective one, carrying the legacy of the Vietnam War.
Eisenhower never got involved in personal disputes. Some people may interpret that as bland or ignorant, but it was a conscious choice. He didn't want to bring down the high prestige of the office of president with political maneuvering or bickering. I think that speaks well of the man.
Too often people become enamored with the personality of the president, rather than the results of the presidency. I think that Eisenhower understood that, and he worked to maintain the appeal of the presidency without sacrificing the needs of the country. And he did it without getting dragged into politics that would have blemished the office. He faced the presidency as he did his military responsibilities--building consensus and moving forward.