By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower liked to spend solitary time focused on something other than the big questions of the day. Answers usually came to him when his mind had a chance to rest, his granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, told ARTBA’s national convention
For the nation’s 34th president this usually meant painting, fishing, or golf, said the author of How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions. She is also CEO and chair of The Eisenhower Group, Inc. (EGI), a Washington, D.C. consulting company.
“Putting his personal house in order, which is different than blaming others,” was another of Ike’s leadership traits, Eisenhower said in her Oct. 21 presentation. He believed in accountability, fairness, and taking time to understand the people who would be affected by his decisions, either as the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II or as president.
“That takes moral courage,” she said.
Eisenhower said Ike had an extraordinary ability to compartmentalize his public and private life, something she became more aware of in her research as she overlaid family memories with key episodes of his presidency, including the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, the first space satellite. She was 18 when he died in 1969.
The author noted Ike took his first oath of allegiance to the Constitution in 1911 when he enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, 42 years before his first presidential inaugural. “He learned to serve a cause bigger than himself,” she said.
As president, Ike signed the 1956 law authorizing construction of the Interstate Highway System and creating the Highway Trust Fund to pay for it. “He believed that infrastructure is the fundamental backbone of our national economy, and our economy is fundamental to our national security,” the author said.
Ike was a 2016 inductee to the ARTBA Foundation Hall of Fame. Susan Eisenhower said her grandfather would have appreciated the honor.
“Of course, he would have reminded everyone it was a team effort,” she said.
She said Ike “would be very worried about the deep divisions” in today’s politics, though many divisions also existed when he won his first term in 1952.
“People were frightened,” she said. “He led by optimism.”