Workplace Drama

Eisenhower, Nixon, and the Most Awkward Boss-Employee Relationship in the World

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The interactions between presidents and their vice presidents have always been among the most interesting employer- employee relationships in the world. Consider the way Al Gore basically pretended Bill Clinton didn't exist during his presidential run, or the sight of President Obama setting his jaw against a mighty wince when Joe Biden told him over a hot mic that Obamacare was a "big fucking deal." Many presidential candidates choose their running mates to compensate for a personal or demographic failing, which often accounts for some awkward relationships later on.

But it doesn't get any more awkward than this: Once upon a time, one of the most popular presidents since George Washington took as his vice president a man who would go on to become one of the most hated figures in American history. Jeffrey Frank's chatty, buoyant new book, Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage (Simon & Schuster, $30), charts the relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, from their rushed introduction to Nixon's rise to the White House. Reading it will, at the very least, immediately make you feel good about all your interactions with all your coworkers forever.

Throughout the presidency, Eisenhower was casually dismissive of Nixon, treating him like a child who wasn't ready for the grown-up table. Even as Eisenhower was continually suffering from a parade of heart attacks and a small stroke, and as Nixon was given more opportunities to stand in for the president than just about any other vice president in history, the younger man got absolutely no respect from the elder. The president couldn't even bring himself to endorse Nixon's 1960 presidential run with anything more than a circuitous bit of doublespeak in one of his many press conferences:

"But if anyone is wondering whether I have any personal preference or even bias with respect to the upcoming Presidential race, the answer is yes, very definitely." Yet it took one more question to absolutely corner Ike:
Q: Mr. President... Were you also speaking there of Mr. Nixon?
A: Was there any doubt in your mind?
Q: No, sir. (Laughter)

Making the whole thing even sadder is the fact that Nixon idolized Eisenhower, continuously seeking his approval and treating face-to-face meetings with the president like they were divine interventions. Even when Nixon raged against his boss, he couldn't manage to muster the same kind of scathing, profane fury that he sprayed all over his enemies list.

By the time Nixon became president, Eisenhower was teetering on the edge of death. Despite all the frustrations heaped upon him by the older president, Frank portrays Nixon as almost inconsolable in his grief. Eisenhower was more than a mentor to him—he was a hero and a father figure. Frank wisely leaves supposition out of his biographical sketch, but Ike and Dick does prompt the question of whether a Nixon who received the praise and coaching he desired out of President Eisenhower would have been a more generous president. Ike and Dick leaves the reader with the feeling that something as simple as a more attentive working relationship could have saved the nation from the disaster of an unhinged Watergate-era Nixon. recommended


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What a useless book and a useless pile of claptrap, all too typical of what we've come to expect from a Constant review, sorry to say!

Enough of the Eisenhower (and Reagan) revisionism, already, for chrissakes!!!

During Eisenhower's administration, the democratically elected president of Iran was overthrown, with the long-running torture shah and his SAVAK replacing him (for the benefit that company today known as BP).

During Eisenhower's administration, the democratically elected president of Guatemala was overthrown, with a military stooge replacing him to the benefit of United Fruit and the oil companies, etc.

During Eisenhower's administration, Eisenhower appointed Nelson Rockefeller who oversaw the compromising of American foreign aid organizations (Export-Import Bank, AID, etc.), altering their management structure, killing all oversight so they could be used by Wall Street to build overseas' facilities benefitting the American-based multinationals.

During Eisenhower's administration, the Cuban invasion and assassination of Castro was concocted, with VP Nixon one of the group members involved, including SecDef Thomas Gates (note the same-sounding name of a recent SecDef --- his uncle, 'natch!), Lovett, etc.

President Kennedy would override Castro's assassination (factually correct, and contradicting other revisionistic bullcrap spewed forth after JFK's assassination) and alter the original plan, which called for a fullscale American military invasion, only allowing for the Cubans to invade, having been falsely told there was widespread support for the overthrow of Castro by Cuba's populace, and thusly believing a real insurgency would take place -- which never happened, of course!

Eisenhower's administration was the typical neocon crapfest, just as was Johnson's, Nixon's, Carter's, Reagan's, ...... to the present.
Posted by sgt_doom on February 14, 2013 at 10:38 AM · Report this
Ike and Dick leaves the reader with the feeling that something as simple as a more attentive working relationship could have saved the nation from the disaster of an unhinged Watergate-era Nixon.
If that's the impression the reader's left with, that may be one reason the Economist said as a work of hstory this book "left something to be desired." I still want to read it for the juicy bits.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 14, 2013 at 12:51 PM · Report this
CBSeattle 3
@1 At what point did Paul Constant defend the or applaud the Eisenhower presidency? Were you perhaps just using this as an opportunity to voice your opinion about conservatives?

Paul Constant is not only a a great writer and reviewer but he is also clearly a card-carrying liberal and proud of it. I don't know whether he is an Eisenhower fan, and neither do you.

More to the point, I think it is unlikely that the Nixon mind could have been saved by the respect of his boss - maybe his parents earlier on - but it's probably fair to say that it didn't help.
Posted by CBSeattle on February 14, 2013 at 1:17 PM · Report this
@3, you're probably closer to the mark. The truly great historian Garry Wills in "Nixon Agonistes" wrote that Nixon treated Eisenhower "like a Calvinist's relation to God, or Ahab's to the whale--awe and fascination soured with fear and a desire to supplant; along with a knowledge, nonetheless, that whatever nobility one may aspire to will come from the attention of the "Great One". What could go wrong?
Posted by gloomy gus on February 14, 2013 at 1:32 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 5
@1 - U.S. post-war foreign policy has been remarkably consistent irrespective of the President's party affiliation (you could argue that it extends back to late 19th-century). The only thing that may have changed is the justification for intervention is couched in more humanitarian terminology.

Ike was no neocon, though, and if his policies are compared to the contemporary conservatives, he would find himself a middle-of-the-road Democrat. He believed in progressive taxation; that the federal government role to 'stimulate' the private sector during low points of the economic cycle is essential, and he was opposed using the legislative body as an inquisitorial chamber.

This is a problematic comparison, given the shift of popular attitudes toward sex and gender identity and federal enforcement of civil rights. Still, domestically, there isn't a seamless transition from Eisenhower to today's Republican Party. They have little in common.
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on February 14, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Fnarf 6
@2, yeah. That Nixon was there all along, with all of the other Nixons. Suggesting that Nixon could have been less paranoid if Ike had loved him more ignores the fact that Nixon was a fully-formed paranoid operative long before Ike was even a Republican (Ike could have run on either the D or R ticket in '52, or '48 for that matter, if he'd wanted to, and actually, naively, inquired about the possibility of running as both at the same time).

It's only in very recent times, really only Dick Cheney (who ran Bush's White House while Bush rode his exercise bike and munched pretzels), that the Veep was treated with much respect by anyone, especially his President. JFK and his cronies used to deliberately torment LBJ. FDR hated all of his veeps, including Truman (John Nance Garner actually worked against him politically). Most Veeps haven't even had an office in the West Wing; they've been lucky to get a few square feet over in the Executive Office Building.
Posted by Fnarf on February 14, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
@6, have you seen any episodes of the Armando Iannuci HBO project "Veep", with Julia Louis-Dreyfus? I understand its humor hinges entirely on the indignities you describe. Its first season releases on DVD etc. next month. I can't wait to see it.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 14, 2013 at 7:24 PM · Report this
Paul Constant 8
@1: I only said that Eisenhower was one of the most popular presidents. That's true. I'm not a fan of the man, although he does seem downright liberal when compared to the last few decades of Republicans, and his prescient speech where he warned us of the military industrial complex was one of the most important speeches a president has ever given, even though we entirely ignored it. But he was a lazy president, a terrible critical thinker, and he was desperately afraid of controversy.

gloomy gus: I love Nixon Agonistes, and I'm dying to see Veep. And if you're looking for gossip, this book has plenty of it. It's not a dense biographical work, but man is it fun.
Posted by Paul Constant http:// on February 15, 2013 at 2:36 PM · Report this

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