Why is Dwight D. Eisenhower important?
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the last president to be born in the nineteenth century. He served in both World Wars, was highly respected for his calm demeanor and leadership abilities, and earned an international reputation for his thoughtful approach to dealing with allies and foes. Eisenhower, in some respects, was the bridge between the generation that fought two world wars and a new generation of leaders that confronted the spread of Communism in the shadow of the rise of nuclear-armed powers.
Historians rank Eisenhower in the top ten of the most effective presidents to serve the United States. Until recently, because of his extreme modesty and a low-key approach to public service, no more than a few glimpses of his impact on public policy have been revealed. Eisenhower shunned publicity, and his appearances in public might even be considered underwhelming by today's standard image of the presidency. His decision-making style was to engage experts privately, gather the facts, and deliberate over a long time before making a decision. Many of his decisions were announced by subordinates, as Eisenhower preferred to maintain a distance between the Office of the President and the news media.
Eisenhower was influential in the transition to modern international relations defined by the Cold War, the effort to stop the spread of Communism, the return of conservative fiscal policies at the federal level, the challenge to enter into the space race, television as a media becoming a more significant influence in politics, and civil rights reforms. Eisenhower worked tirelessly behind the scenes to moderate and reduce the tensions in the cold war. As part of his efforts to reduce tensions in the world, he was able to negotiate a truce in the Korean War.
Eisenhower in domestic policies was considered to be moderate. His legislative agenda did little to obstruct the programs of the New Deal and the Fair Deal. He was generally unfavorable to raising taxes and was a fiscal hawk. Unusual for a retired general, Eisenhower was critical of what he termed the military industrial complex. While a strong supporter of the military, Eisenhower expressed concern that military spending left without stronger controls from Congress would eat into the domestic agenda and therefore was unsustainable. Eisenhower's policies focused on a combination of right-sized military, diplomacy, and strength through economic power. His administration emphasized the necessity of a balanced budget so that the economy would not be inhibited and that tax dollars would be spent wisely.
Two accomplishments that stand out from the rest of his administration's success is his work on civil rights and the interstate highway system. Eisenhower sent troops in 1957 to Little Rock Arkansas to enforce the school desegregation order of the federal court. While his action was an important milestone in the protection of the civil rights of African Americans and minorities, his order to desegregate the military may have had a greater long-term positive impact on racial relations in the United States. The second accomplishment is the interstate highway system. In June of 1956, he signed a bill authorizing the construction of more than 41,000 miles of new modern highway connecting major cities in a national highway system.
Eisenhower's status as one of the most positively influential United States presidents has risen in recent years. His demeanor in office, management of crises, and international ambassadorship have resulted in a reevaluation of the Eisenhower administration.
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