A bitter conflict takes center stage in this new volume from David A. Nichols.
The name Joseph McCarthy elicits uncomfortable feelings in the hearts and minds of many Americans. His tactics to sniff out those he felt were unfaithful to the American way of life are legendary and resonate loudly to this day. McCarthy had begun his political career as a Democrat and enjoyed that vantage point during a time when the party had a tenacious grasp on our nation. Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first Republican since Herbert Hoover to be elected to the office of president in 1953, a post he maintained until 1961. By then, McCarthy had shifted parties and though one might have expected a modicum of mutual respect between these two men, they were actually engaged in a bitter conflict that takes center stage in this new volume from David A. Nichols.
Eisenhower was affable, liked by both parties and had made a name for himself with a successful military career that culminated in spectacular victory in World War II. McCarthy momentarily seemed among those who liked Ike. For a moment it seemed that the more paranoid and fringe elements of his high rhetoric were outdated. However, that relaxation proved temporary when the Wisconsinite felt his time in the spotlight slipping; Eisenhower’s quiet sophistication had little patience for McCarthy’s recklessness.
McCarthy could not entirely transform himself into a kinder, gentler witch hunter, though he did have his supporters, including Roy Cohn. Together, their concentration on subversive activities stirred the cauldron of fear at a time when there were more tangible and important matters of policy and diplomacy on the horizon. Eisenhower understood this whereas his counterpart did not. Though a competent military commander, he was no showman. McCarthy, however, was s a step away from a carnival barker, letting little get in the way of a good headline and the rhetoric of fear. Had he possessed a Twitter account, one can only imagine the havoc he may have created.
It was that quiet resolve that ultimately served Ike well as his selective but thoughtful tactics and knack for forming alliances advanced his goals. This wise patience is something author Nichols has meditated upon in his previous work on Ike and a trait that those of us who find the president under-appreciated must also admire. Eisenhower was a man of quiet persuasion, quiet enough that perhaps his legacy has suffered some for it.
The author’s passion for this conflict is apparent in his research and his deft attention to narrative detail. There are historians whose writing bristles with the life and drama of the situations and characters they write about, and Nichols is among them. He knows Eisenhower better than most and he also knows that history is a dish best served relevant. He may not have been able to predict the present political climate, but this book proves incredibly relevant nonetheless. We are once more at a moment in history where boisterous voices seek to distract us from the real matters at hand and where thoughtfulness and careful maneuvering are shunned and perceived as being weak and ineffectual.
If Nichols is correct in his manner of thinking and with the narrative he puts forth in this book, the ship may right itself before it’s too late. If it doesn’t? Well, there’s nothing that will distract from the fine read this author has given us with Ike and McCarthy.