My dad was an Eisenhower Republican. Discharged from the Air Force after the end of the Korean War, he took a job in 1953 as a mine foreman in David, Kentucky. His salary was $1,600 a year.
My father believed in hard work, self-reliance, fiscal responsibility, capitalism, patriotism and — most importantly — decency.
According to “Boundless U.S. History,” a highly acclaimed, free online resource for educators, the Eisenhower administration was “a period of peace and prosperity, and inter-party cooperation, even as the world was polarized by the Cold War.” The Interstate Highway System remains his most enduring legacy, a progressive program that opened up lasting economic growth from coast to coast.
“Boundless U.S. History” went on to say that Eisenhower feared Russian aggression and made the space race against the Soviet Union a high priority, even being credited for founding NASA. Eisenhower famously warned against the military industrial complex. Under his nominee Earl Warren, the Supreme Court “expanded civil rights, civil liberties, judicial power, and federal power in dramatic ways,” according to the site.
In his reelection campaign in 1956, Eisenhower’s camp touted equal pay for women, increased Social Security enrollment, protection of federal prevailing wage, protection of unemployment insurance, protection of unions’ right to organize and bargain collectively, and the establishment of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Most scholars and political historians rank Eisenhower as one of the 10 greatest U.S. presidents, including UNC professor David Goldfield, author of “The Gifted Generation: When Government was Good.”
According to Goldfield, Eisenhower’s push for high taxes and public investment helped build the mid-century middle class. “From 1953 to 1961, the top income bracket in the United States climbed to a marginal tax rate of 91 percent. Taxes on corporate profits were two times as great as they are in 2017.” Goldfield said these taxes “invested in the future, not the few.”
He was right. Under the Eisenhower administration, millions of families like ours did well. We were able to buy a home, a television and a maroon Ford Galaxy with a white leather top. My father took us to Myrtle Beach for miners’ vacation every summer. He sent all of his three children to college. Eisenhower’s policies were founded on “a rising tide lifts all boats,” which is the opposite of “trickle down economics.”
My father’s values shaped me. I was a member of the Young Republicans in high school. I was chosen by Republican Congressman William Wampler to attend a student symposium in Washington. I skipped class in 1970 to attend a Nixon rally in Kingsport, Tennessee. I got in trouble, but my dad was proud.
Every day, I thank God my dad is not alive to see what’s happened to his beloved Republican Party. It has been hijacked by the biggest huckster in human history. It is stained with the blood of children and church worshippers mowed down by white supremacists wielding military-grade weapons. It is corrupted by dark money and nefarious foreign influences. It has purposefully and diabolically chipped away at every institution designed to keep democracy inside the rails: a free press, an impartial judiciary, public schools, fair elections, academia and the system of checks and balances provided by the three branches of government.
Worst of all, the GOP has lost its sense of decency. Imagine if Eisenhower took part in the vulgar name-calling, corruption, profanity, racism, lying, misogyny, nepotism and cruelty we see today. Imagine if his fellow Republicans sat idly by and watched.
At the fifth game of the World Series in Washington, many in the crowd booed the president and joined in a chant of “Lock Him Up!” My father — who loved baseball as much as he loved the Grand Ole Party — would have been appalled. I’m so glad he didn’t live to see it.