Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign Against Joe McCarthy
By David A Nichols
Simon & Schuster, 400 pp. $27.95
Conventional Wisdom is a funny, shifting kind of thing when contemporary politics age to become history. After all, the CW for years has been that good
The CW also posits that President Dwight Eisenhower — while a brilliant military man (dude helped win the Big One! WWII!) — was a disengaged, dim, grandfatherly Commander in Chief more interested in putting golf balls than pulling votes.
But with the hindsight of research and a torrent of now-declassified documents, Ike scholar Nichols infuses (if not upends) the CW with this book and its central theory: Ike worked in mysterious ways to bring down McCarthy, a man he detested and — with rare floundering — whose name he chose never to utter in public.
Nor was Eisenhower thrilled that nearly 2,200 governments workers lost their jobs due to their real, inflated, or imagined communist sympathies due to McCarthy and his minions.
One of Nichols’ more interesting storylines is just why Joe McCarthy chose to target and try to ferret out Commies from such a powerful “
McCarthy’s aide, David Schine (who McCarthy chief counsel Roy Cohn was, um, very interested in), was drafted into that arm of the military, and neither McCarthy nor Cohn could pull special privileges to get him out, give him freedom at will, or keep him from KP duty. And Roy Cohn was pissed.
This, of course, set the stage for the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings in which the former was accused of holding Schine “hostage” in an effort to stop McCarthyism, while the latter was accused of seeking (though sometimes shady protocols) said privilege for
As the storm of the hearings geared up, Eisenhower went into battle mode. Never one to make the big proclamations himself, he relied on meetings, memos (on and off the record), dispatching then-VP Richard Nixon as an
And – as Nichols writes – it wasn’t just Eisenhower’s standing as President or legacy at stake. There were more immediate concerns, like the upcoming Congressional and Senate elections Ike hoped would go Republican despite the brush-tarring of McCarthyism, and the 1956 Presidential election itself.
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In his well-written summaries of the
In the end, both sides got a slap for their efforts, but the Senator was undoubtedly the loser in the public and government eye. Ironically, he himself was cleared of wrongdoing and instead Cohn get the brunt; he soon resigned.
Beaten, McCarthy was censured by Congress and instantly lost any power he had accrued. Reports say that when he rose to speak the Senate chamber room would empty. When he sat down in the Senate dining hall, other lawmakers would scurry away. He died in 1957 at the age of just 48 from hepatitis, exacerbated by his heavy drinking.
Nichols' well-paced, well-written book deftly details a relationship — while not face-to-face — that had a huge impact on American history of the 1950s. As recent events show, it was also hardly the last Russian Connection to face scrutiny and involve outraged and investigatory government figures...