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5.0 out of 5 stars Pipes extracts the true Eisenower regarding civil rights, July 5, 2007
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This review is from: Ike's Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality (Hardcover)
This book is a fast 300 pg. narrative on Eisenhower's nuanced positions regarding civil rights. The nuance is not whether equal rights for African Americans were right vs. wrong, but instead Eisenhower's struggle on how best to protect the rights of these Americans against the prejudice of southern conservatives who controlled the southern states and the relevant committees of the Senate.

Pipes begins with Eisenhower's experiences and contributions to the cause of equal rights in the military and ends in his retirement, with the climax happening 2/3 of the way through the book when Ike sends federal troops to Little Rock, AK to defend the right of African American students to attend a whites-only public school in spite of a bigoted governor who sends the national guard to keep them out. The book finishes with reflections on his contributions looking back from the time of Kennedy and LBJ moving the ball forward even further.

Pipes provides an incredibly fair report on President Eisenhower's policy positions and actions given the frequent opaqueness of his position depending on the situation and the company he was keeping. Many have attempted to paint Ike as a racist political opportunist or a courageous leader of the civil rights movement, with both positions given to hyperbole. Instead, Pipes portrays a man who respects majoritarian positions while realizing in his heart the wrongness of institutionalized bigotry even though Eisenhower, a man of his time, shares some prejudicial beliefs. The struggle for Eisenhower is often how to move the majority to his position without his having to depend on fiery rhetoric to change hearts and minds.

While Eisenhower was never a die-hard politico, he left the GOP with a wonderful legacy inherent in republicanism as a form of government instituted in 1787. Reading this book in 2007 shows how far the current majority of Republicans have mutated away from the principles of republicanism and Eisenhower, mostly due to the Southern Conservative Democrats who emigrated to the GOP after LBJ led the Democratic party into passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts.

Pipes' only flaw in the book, so minor it's not worth knocking down a star, is a weak-hearted attempt to define Eisenhower as a conservative even though all empirical evidence in the book and other studies on Eisenhower provide ample evidence that he was a moderate who "got it" regarding our founding ideal of republicanism that holds that government is obligated to defend our individual liberty rights. The examples of Eisenhower's actions in the book are a case study in republicanism, not conservatism, where Ike closely follows the examples of previous Republican presidents who used federal power to protect individual and minority rights (e.g., Madison, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt). Conservatives by definition abhor using federal power to protect individual rights, they instead promote the ideal of "state rights" in hopes the process of "democratic conservatism" at the state level will "protect the will of the people", i.e., conservatives want to employ simple majorities leveraging state power to deny individuals and minority groups equal rights and protections.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 9, 2009 9:59:49 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 9, 2009 10:01:33 AM PDT
President Eisenhower always said that he was a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. That made him a true Republican moderate. Moreover, Eisenhower did not believe in confrontational politics. He preferred to fight for possibly controversial policies behind the scenes. Readers of Pipe's book should also read "The Hidden-Hand Presidency" by Fred I. Greenstein and "A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution" by David A. Nichols. Nichols clearly documents that Ike worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote civil rights, while deliberately avoiding public confrontations with southern politicians. Furthermore, Ike was right. It has taken more than a generation to achieve the "post-racial" country we have today.
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