Welcome to America in the 1950’s! Newly manufactured suburban homes were keeping their nuclear family’s safe, large corporations were keeping them employed, and people everywhere were reminded that the purchase and ownership of goods was synonymous with the American Dream. Many saw democracy at work as they exercised their economic freedoms, indulged in home ownership, and fastidiously maintained traditional family values aligned with conservative gender roles. No longer consumed by a world war, and bolstered by technological advancements in health care, families became larger and more closely bound by the unifying force of religion, television, and the pursuit of entertainment. “American workers enjoyed high employment, low inflation, and rising incomes. Less than 5 percent of the workforce was unemployed at any one time.” (Oakes et al., 2015, p 776) If prosperity and consumerism were the driving force of the 50’s, then “sameness” was certainly its main characteristic. “The United States seemed a homogeneous society whose people bought the same products, watched the same TV shows, worked for the same corporations and dreamed the same dreams.” (Oakes et al., 2015, p779)
The organized military man and popular president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, embodied many of the values that dominated the 1950’s. A dedicated husband to a fashion-forward wife, his methodical and organizational approach toward government mimicked big business managerial structures. His Modern Republicanism sought to maintain popular liberal programs, ensure corporate wealth, and uphold individual consumer culture. Perhaps his greatest success was continuing the “sameness” to which the country had grown accustomed. “’The public loves Ike,’ one journalist observed. ‘The less he does, the more they love him.’” (Oakes et al., 2015, p 787) Therein lies his secret to success, maintaining the status quo and promoting the public's ability to consume, seek pleasure, and perpetuate comfortable norms. “The Doctrine of the Eisenhower Administration is that you would return America back to its private enterprise roots.” (Eisenhower Republicanism)
But, his presidency wasn’t without conflict and failure, as the red scare of Communism still loomed on the horizon. Unlike his predecessor, Eisenhower sought a more aggressive stance to “roll back” Soviet power through “long-range bombers, missiles, and nuclear-powered submarines.” (Oakes et al., 2015, p 789) He made extensive use of the CIA in covert operations across the globe designed to undermine and thwart Communist progress. “Despite its tough talk, the Eisenhower administration avoided direct confrontation with two major Communist powers, The People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union.” (Oakes et al., 2015, p 791) He failed to bring a victory in Korea but negotiated a famous stalemate instead. In Vietnam, he backed anti-Communist Ngo Dinh Diem who “established a corrupt, repressive government” (Oakes et al., 2015, p 792) ensuring a Vietnamese civil war (for which the US would later pay dearly). The policies of the “Eisenhower Doctrine” would help to “stabilize the Middle East and South East Asia temporarily, but he had also drawn the United States more deeply into these crisis-prone regions”. (Oakes et al., 2015, p 793)
Eisenhower’s popularity can be placed squarely on the success, happiness, and homogeny of the American people, who were looking for their government to maintain contented consumerism as opposed to offering radical political and social intervention. Riding on the success of the “New Deal”, the socio-economic boom that followed World War II, and what can be argued as the media-driven awakening of the American people, Eisenhower benefited from being president in an altogether idyllic time. Elvis was gyrating into the hearts of American teen girls everywhere, beatniks were snapping dark clad fingers in quiet protest, and “I Love Lucy” made everyone feel as if American had finally awoken from their nightmares to discover their dreams realized.
Was Eisenhower a great president? Probably not. Would his ideas and policies reinvent the country? No. But then again, that was the point. He didn’t need to.