Back In Time
Republicans - The Turn to the Future
(TIME, September 3, 1956) -- With the clatter of pots and pans in the political kitchen, the cries of brawling candidates in the national living room, and the static of charge and countercharge on the party line, the true voice of the U.S. political system has a hard time getting through to the people. But last week, for a moment in history, the election-year hubbub died low, the lines cleared, and from San Francisco came the clear tones of a political leader turning squarely to the future of a Republican Party once known, however justly, for its dedication to the past.
For those grown fond of the din, the 1956 Republican national Convention may well have seemed dull, and, compared to the Democratic meeting (or past G.O.P. conventions), it was. There were no fights, no cliff-hanging situations. With hardly a discordant tock to its tick, it ran off with multi-jewel precision. At the flick of a hand from Hollywood's George Murphy, the convention entertainment director, singers of all shapes and sizes appeared to entertain the delegates. At the drop of a G.O.P. hero's name, sign-toting Young Republicans in varsity sweaters snake-danced down
Cow Palace aisles like half time at College Stadium. At the rap of a gavel from Permanent Chairman Joe Martin, the demonstrators vanished like so many genii.
Over the Shoulder. The Republicans heard the sounds of the past. Rough-hewn Joe Martin looked over his political shoulder and spoke of "the past that despoiled our heritage with the indelible stains of corruption and Communism." Patriarch Herbert Hoover, erect and unbowed at 82, touched off one of the convention's most heartfelt demonstrations, thanked the old friends who had stood up for him through thick and thin ("And some of those years where they stood up were pretty thin"), traced the development of man's freedoms from Greece and Rome to Runnymede to Philadelphia, A.D. 1776, and its "fulfillment of God's purpose that the mind, spirit and enterprise of man should be free."
Tom Dewey, a Republican of later vintage, looked to the less distant past. "Mr. Truman," said he, added to Chicago's "enlightenment of the day by declaring that mr. Stevenson could not win. Then he went further. He solemnly warned the country that it should not risk a trial-and-error Administration under Mr. Stevenson . . . I should say this -- that the nation is indebted to Mr. Truman for this involuntary lapse into objectivity."
Moment of Quiet. The renominations of President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon were unanimous. The President was soon to note the historic disparities of the Republican party in telling how it gathered in "Free-Soilers, Independent Democrats, conscience Whigs, Barnburners, Soft Hunkers, teetotalers, vegetarians and transcendentalists." But in 1956, Republicans were united in knowing whom and what they wanted. Dwight Eisenhower could have brought on a "wide open" presidential nomination only by his own irrevocable withdrawal. And for months Ike had tried to avoid the appearance of dictation by withholding his all-out endorsement of Nixon. The fact: only by an unvarnished turndown of Nixon -- in itself a denial of a "wide open" convention -- could the President have changed the final results.
The snake-dancing, the balloon-popping and the voice-lifting finally died away -- and it was this moment when the clear tone could come through. In accepting his nomination, Dwight Eisenhower devoted himself to a single subject: the future. By applying new and progressive ideas to old and established principles, the U.S. through the Republican Party could reach for a greater tomorrow. In that tomorrow, the pain of crippling disease would be vastly reduced, political wisdom would ensure justice and harmony, and the means would be at hand for "the full realization of all the good things of the world.
"My fellow Americans," concluded the President, "the kind of era I have described is possible." The great auditorium in San Francisco was hushed, and from that hush had come a voice that Americans of all faiths and factions could hear and understand, as rarely before, in the tumult and shouting of U.S. election years.
Cheerleaders bounded and bounced in a political harlequinade, and Republican dignitaries lined up with grins wide enough for tooth inspection as the presidential Columbine III touched down at San Francisco's International Airport just ahead of the fog bank rolling over the San Bruno hills. Dwight Eisenhower, his face ruddy with returned strength and alight with expectation, stepped lightly from the big airplane, faced microphones and told why he had come a day ahead of schedule to the scene of the Republican National Convention. "I suddenly discovered this was too interesting a place to stay away from," he said. "I just read the names of too many friends in the paper, and I wanted to see them."
The simple statement told a lot about the Eisenhower of Election Year 1956; the military hero who walked so gingerly for so long in the political world has become a zestful party leader who thoroughly like that world and its political inhabitants. Last week, by his every word and act, he proved it.
The Whole List. San Francisco was like wine to Ike. As he came close to the heart of the city on his run from the airport, he ordered his Lincoln stopped so that the Plexiglas bubble-top could be pushed back. There he stood in the rear waving, first with his left hand, then right, then both, to the heavy crowds who lined the streets and packed Union Square in front of the downtown St. Francis Hotel. His Secret Service escort moved narrow-eyed and tense through the surging, shouting lobby throng, but the President was clearly delighted as he and Mamie Eisenhower made their way to the elevator for the ride to their two-bedroom suite on the sixth floor. There President Eisenhower received brief courtesy calls from California Republican leaders, chatted with his family, retired early.
He was up early Wednesday morning, ready for anything. And the first problem was unscheduled: from vice President Nixon came an early-morning call reporting his father seriously ill in La Habra. Said Ike: "You've got to go."
The day's regular order of business began with an 8:30 breakfast with Republican National Chairman Leonard Hall. After Hall, in rapid order, came California's Senator Bill Knowland, Convention Chairman Joe Martin, Platform Committee Chairman Prescott Bush, and a string of others, including Detroit's Mayor Albert Cobo, who is running for governor of Michigan. Dick Nixon's Republican critic, haggard harold Stassen, appeared on the sixth floor, conferred for an hour and a half with Presidential Staff Chief Sherman Adams before seeing Ike for ten minutes. The immediate aftermath of Stassen's visit: the first live TV presidential press conference in U.S. history.
His Own Strength. When Ike slipped through a butler's pantry into the Italian Room of the St. Francis, Washington newsmen who had been away covering the conventions were astonished by the change that two weeks had made in his looks and outlook. He seemed muscular, his normally high color had returned, his eyes had brightened. Harold Stassen, said the President, had become "absolutely convinced that the majority of the delegates want Nixon," and had therefore asked to "second the nomination of the Vice President."
After his Stassen announcement, he fielded an assortment of humdrum political questions. Then in one memorable sentence he made clear however modestly, that he has come to recognize his own unique political strength. Asked if he agreed that Dick Nixon would weaken the Republican ticket, Ike replied: "Now, frankly -- this could get a little embarrassing -- because all the polls that I saw showed this: that any Vice President seemed to reduce my percentage just a little."
"Pretty Soft Touch." That afternoon, with Mamie, son John and daughter-in-law Barbara, and his hearty brothers Earl and Edgar Eisenhower, the President of the U.S. watched the convention proceedings on television. he listened solemnly while Indiana's Charlie Halleck -- who nominated Wendell Willkie in 1940 -- addressed him on the screen, nominated him as "the most widely beloved, the most universally respected, the most profoundly dedicated man of our times." He watched with fascination as his nomination was seconded by eight assorted Republicans -- including a South Dakota dirt farmer, a Texas mother of six, a Louisiana ex- Democrat, a Negro educator, a Rhode Island steelworker, Notre Dame's longtime (1941-53) Football Coach Frank Leahy, and Maryland's Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin.
Through the roll call, brother Earl ribbed the President: "Think you're going to make it?" and "Wait till your opposition moves up on you." and "Yea, you got a pretty soft touch this time." Ike laughed: "You know, I haven't lost a vote yet." He never did.
"You've Really Got Me." Wednesday night he put on his new blue suit, and with Mamie, who wore a black velvet cocktail dress and a mammoth ribbon, slipped in early to the Republican Centennial Ball in San Francisco's handsome Civic Auditorium. Although only 1,500 of the 7,000 guests had arrived, the great cry went up: "We want Ike! We want Ike!" Almost by instinct, the President threw both hands up in the air, the familiar grin wrinkled his face. Then, suddenly, something happened. He broke out laughing, his hands turned outward, his shoulders shrugged, he turned half around and said quietly: "Well, well, for golly sakes -- you've really got me." By those close friends who heard him, this was translated to mean that Ike finally knew he was heart and soul in politics -- and loved it.
On Thursday, the convention's final day, the President fell to politicking with a heartier will than ever. All morning long, Republican candidates for Congress streamed into the presidential suite for individual photographs with their party's leader -- a performance that the press dubbed "Operation Coattail." Ike once looked on that sort of thing as sheer drudgery. Not so last week, as he slapped Republican backs, asked about state and local political problems, assured each picture mate: "Now really, I want to see you in Washington next January."
On the way from the St. Francis to the Cow Palace for his acceptance speech, President Eisenhower stood in the rear of his Lincoln and waved all the way, hardly noticing when his hat blew from his hand (it was recovered by a nimble Secret Service man). Marching down the ramp into the Cow Palace auditorium with Mamie at his side, Ike watched delightedly while delegates trumpeted and paraded for nearly 20 minutes. Down from the roof came hundreds of red, white and blue balloons, some labeled "Ike," some "Dick." Finally, the preliminaries over, President Eisenhower faced the 1956 Republican Convention and began to read a memorable speech that lifted the Eisenhower doctrine to a new peak of intensity and power.
The Handle of Faith
"This is a good time to think about the future," said Dwight Eisenhower, "for this convention is celebrating its 100th anniversary." So saying, he staked his speech on pointing the Grand Old Party away from all the inhibitions of its recent past toward a vista that it had never really allowed itself since the exuberant days of Theodore Roosevelt. From Henrik Ibsen he borrowed his text: "I hold that man is in the right who is most closely in league with the future."
"Today I want to demonstrate the truth of a singe proposition: the Republican party is the party of the future. I hold that the Republican party and platform are right in 1956 because they are most closely in league with the future. And for this reason [they] will be decisively approved in 1956."
To stake down his single proposition, Ike outlined some sharp points:
"It is the party of long-range principle, not short-term expediency."
"Change based on principle is progress. Constant change without principle becomes chaos." He cited specific examples from recent dialogues between principle and expediency (for "expediency" many of his listeners read Democrats).
-- On the farm problem, expediency had multiplied "our price- depressing surpluses as bad." The answer: a "program of principle" that will "preserve our continent's basic resource of soil" and a determined effort to get farm prices and income "back on a genuinely healthy basis."
-- In labor relations, the Administration has stuck fast to the principle of free collective bargaining despite the argument that in major labor disputes the Government should force the parties to agree by knocking their heads together. The result: "For the first time in our history, a complete steel contract was negotiated and signed without direct Government intervention."
-- In the area of federal v. states' rights, expediency had argued for "the centralization short cut every time something [had] to be done." Replied Ike: "Geographical balance of power is essential to our form of free society." Hence, "we stemmed the stampede to Washington. We made a special point to build up state activities," and thereby saved for the present and the future "the unique system of division of authority which has proved so successful in reconciling our oldest ideas of personal freedom with the 20th century need for decisiveness in action."
"It is the party which concentrates on the facts and issues of today and tomorrow, not the facts and issues of yesterday."
The challenges are many: the need for better schools, health, housing, power development, the peaceful use of atomic energy. Many Democrats, nonetheless, are blinded in their approach to these problems by "their obsession with the depression." Says the party of the future: Let us quit fighting the battles of the past and face up to the issues on which long-term well-being depends.
"It is the party that draws people together, not drives them apart."
By rejecting the "technique of pitting group against group for cheap political advantage," it has "again [become] the rallying point" -- as it was in Lincoln's time -- "for Americans of all callings, races and incomes."
"It is the party through which the many things that still need doing will soonest be done -- and will be done by enlisting the fullest energies of free, creative, individual people."
Through quiet action, and by enlisting public support and participation, it has brought about "more genuine -- and often voluntary -- progress toward equal justice and opportunity in the last three years than was accomplished in all the previous twenty." True, said the President, "there are still enough needless sufferings to be cured, enough injustices to be erased . . . Republicans, independents, discerning Democrats, come on in and help!"
Finally, he drove a few nails into the coffin that holds the isolationist elements of his party. U.S. security, he said, can be maintained only by the maintenance of U.S. moral, economic and military power. Another imperative for peace is collective security -- "not [for] military strength alone" but to help other nations "realize their own potentialities." But even that is not enough to insure peace "in the era of the thermonuclear bomb" -- which has made war "not just tragic, but preposterous." Hence, the final imperative for peace is to "try to bridge the great chasm that separates [us] from the peoples under Communist rule."
Of course, he said, little can come of this effort unless the Communist leaders are willing. In the recent slight lifting of the Iron Curtain, Ike saw "signs [of] some small degree" of a new Communist spirit of conciliation. His fervent hope: "Little by little, mistrust based on falsehoods will give way to international understanding based on truth."
For his conclusion, the President borrowed a line from the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher: "Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith." Holding fast to the handle of faith -- in himself, in his party, and in the ability of the nation to respond to the challenges of the new era -- Dwight David Eisenhower "humbly but confidently" accepted his second nomination for the presidency.
The Vice-Presidency Unanimous Choice
Only a flat, last-minute, wildly improbable turndown by the top man could have beaten him, but Richard Nixon was taking nothing for granted last week in this campaign for vice-presidential renomination. Chigger-bitten by Harold Stassen, stung by California Governor Goodwin Knight's bumblebee efforts against him, Nixon spread political balm in San Francisco with a soothing hand. Like a busy doctor, he moved from room to room of his mark Hopkins Hotel suite to talk to delegations -- and before long, the traffic was so heavy that the only way the delegates could leave was by the interior fire stairs.
On his first full day in the convention city, Nixon received a silver candlestick and an endorsement from the Young Republicans, saw delegations from Michigan, Wisconsin, New York (where Tom Dewey had given him an unqualified, effective endorsement), Pennsylvania and Missouri (where Delegation Chairman Elroy Bromwich remained a feeble flicker of anti-Nixon sentiment). Next day came eight more delegations, and the day after that, nine. Also on the program: a trip to the International Airport to greet Dwight Eisenhower.
"Cussed & Discussed." Nixon used much the same polished, effective script in his approaches to all the state delegations. The Republicans, said he, have "something better to offer than smear and vilification. We have the record of the Eisenhower Administration." (Cheers.) The Democratic nominees are "dedicated men -- they are probably the best their convention could select." (Somber silence.) The "greatest danger is one of complacency. "(Uncomplacent looks.) As for his own candidacy, the convention was "going to have a little voting tomorrow, and regardless of how the voting comes out, I'm going to be pitching for you." (Loud cheers.) In any event, Nixon concluded, "I have been cussed and discussed -- but everybody pretty well agrees that Pat's all right." (Pat Nixon blushed prettily, delegates rose cheering, headed happily for the fire-escape exit.)
Between delegations on Monday, Nixon managed to find time for a luncheon trip to Fisherman's Wharf with newsmen and Dan Gainey, Minnesota jewelry manufacturer who backed Harold Stassen in 1948 and 1952 but has grown increasingly cool toward Childe Harold. No sooner had Nixon left his car for the block-long walk to the Exposition Grotto than a crowd began to gather. Nixon showed all the pump-handle efficiency of an Estes Kefauver in shaking hands with cab drivers, tourists, shopkeepers, cops, and everyone else he could reach.
Bad News. On roll-call day -- Wednesday -- Nixon had planned to see nine more delegations -- but news from his home in La Habra, Calif. forced a cancellation. To Nixon's suite came a call from his brother Don: their father, Frank Nixon, 77, had suffered a partially ruptured abdominal artery, and seemed near death. The light went out of Dick Nixon's triumphal march to nomination: before 8 a.m., he and Pat were on the way home.
Almost that same time, Harold Stassen was throwing in the towel on his dump-Nixon fight. Throughout the week, the haggardly smiling Stassen had endured small indignities: he as booed in the Fairmont Hotel; delegates flaunted insulting buttons saying, "stASSen" and "Stassen Stop Harassin'." Stassen could have taken all that if he had been making headway. But even he perceived that he had underestimated Dick Nixon's strength in the Republican party. At the eleventh hour on Wednesday he went to Eisenhower, said he was giving up, asked permission to second Nixon's nomination that afternoon. Ike did not give Stassen the satisfaction of making the capitulation announcement; instead, the President called his remarkable press conference to make the announcement himself.
"A Good Loser." To the two-story stucco house in a neglected La Habra orange grove came the news bulletin of Stassen's surrender. There Frank Nixon labored for life under a green oxygen mask. At the foot of his bed was a television set; on top of it rested the family Bible. Dick Nixon told his father about Stassen's surrender. The old man smiled, said painfully: "He's a good loser." Asked the son: "You heard that President Eisenhower opened his press conference by saying everyone is praying for you?" Replied his father: "Thank you."
There, in his family's home, the Vice President watched his renomination on television. Massachusetts' Governor Christian A. Herter, proposed by Stassen as the man to stop Nixon, himself made the nominating speech. Stassen was one of the seconders. An ex-Democrat from Nebraska, one Terry Carpenter, backed down after nominating a fictitious "symbol of an open convention" named Joe Smith (thereby setting off a spate of "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Joe Smith" editorials in the U.S. press). Governor "Goodie" Knight choked down his gorge and made the California announcement of 70 votes for Nixon. The nomination, like Ike's, was unanimous -- and old Frank Nixon took new heart, began gaining strength to the extent that Richard Nixon returned to San Francisco to deliver his acceptance speech.
"We Believe..." The Richard Nixon who appeared on television screens to accept his nomination was a long way from the scowling, black-bearded mud-slinger that the Fair Dealing cartoonists had led their readers to expect. Simply and eloquently, he set forth his party's beliefs. "We believe," he said, "that government should be a partner with business and with labor and not a partisan to encourage one to fight with the other . . . We believe in human welfare but not the welfare state. We seek social gains, but we reject completely the well-intentioned, but mistaken theories of those who would socialize, federalize or nationalize basic American institutions."
Only at the end did Nixon permit himself a reference to that which weighed heaviest on him. "The skill of the fine doctors who are attending my father," he said, "could not possibly have equaled the lift which he has received from the events for which you were responsible yesterday. For that we thank you. Good-bye and good luck."
Platforms: The Issues
The Republican platform, like almost everything else about the G.O.P. convention, was straight Eisenhower. Mild in its criticism of the Democrats, it pointed with pride to the achievements of the last 3 1/2 years, and broad-brushed plans for the future. In only one respect did the Platform Committee turn down a strong presidential hint: instead of the short, concise statement he would have liked, Ike and the G.O.P. delegates got a document of 13,500 words, twice the length of the 1952 Republican platform. 1,500 words longer than the 1956 Democratic effort.
Wordiness was not the only common denominator of this year's party platforms. The Democratic platform had ripped heavily into the G.O.P. record, was studded with such words as "betrayal," "vote-buying," "bluster and bluff." But when the Democrats got right down to stating their objectives, they and the Republicans turned out to be in remarkable agreement in most areas. Only when they explained how they proposed to achieve their respective goals did the Republicans and Democrats demonstrate that there are still fundamental, if steadily narrowing, differences between them. Items:
Civil Rights. Both decry discrimination because of race, color or creed and the use of force to implement the Supreme Court's desegregation decisions. But the Democrats merely "recognize the Supreme Court . . . as one of the three constitutional . . . branches of the Federal Government," and note that its decisions "have brought consequences of vast importance to our Nation as a whole." The Republicans "accept" the decisions, and say that public-school discrimination must be "progressively eliminated . . . with all deliberate speed."
Agriculture. Both agree that farmers are entitled to a full share of the national prosperity; that the soil bank, commodity loan and rural electrification programs should be continued; that new foreign markets must be sought for U.S. farm products; that the plight of low-income farmers must be remedied. Beyond these, the issues are struck. The Democrats urge restoration of rigid price supports at 90% of parity, aim toward 100% of parity with a variety of proposals for more federal farm legislation. (Notably avoided: any mention of the ill-famed Brannan Plan, long the official policy of the Truman Administration.) The Republicans stand by the farm policies of Eisenhower and Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson, favor a "versatile, flexible program to meet . . . rapidly changing conditions" and "full freedom instead of . . . more regimentation."
Foreign Policy. Both support self-determination for all peoples, freedom for Communist satellites. U.S. aid for under- developed countries, a strong United Nations, an unequivocal ban on U.N. membership for Red China, regional mutual security pacts such as NATO and SEATO, the Good Neighbor policy, bipartisan conduct of foreign affairs, a release of U.S. prisoners in China, and reciprocal trade hedged by selective but vaguely defined protective tariffs. At issue: in the explosive Middle East, the Democrats advocate sale of "defensive weapons" to Israel; the Republicans pledge themselves to "support the independence of Israel against armed aggression."
National Defense. Both agree that the U.S. must continue to maintain a military establishment powerful enough to deter aggression. At issue: the Democrats charge the Administration has settled for "second best" defense; the Republicans believe the U.S. "has the strongest striking force in the world." The more specific Republican plank calls for a jet-powered long-range Air Force, the most effective guided missiles, a modern Navy with a powerful air arm, an Army with unequaled mobility and firepower, and bases "strategically dispersed at home and around the world."
Fiscal & Tax Policies. Both pledge a balanced budget, tax reductions for lower-income groups, tight antitrust law enforcement. At issue: the Democrats propose tax relief through a $200 increase in personal-income tax exemption; the Republicans promise that there will be tax cuts "in so far as consistent with a balanced budget." The Democrats want to use "all practical means" to make long and short-term credit available to small businesses; the Republicans pledge loans at "reasonable rates" to small businesses that have "records of permanency but are in temporary need."
Labor. Both support the right to organize, full employment, federal aid for depressed areas. At issue: the Democrats advocate outright repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act and a return to something more like the Wagner Act; the Republicans suggest modification and improvement of Taft-Hartley. The Democrats also propose an increase in the national minimum wage from $1 to $1.25 an hour; the Republicans mention no increase, but want to extend the minimum- wage-law protection to more workers.
Natural Resources. Both advocate bigger and better soil, water and timber conservation programs, more support for the national-park system, more outdoor recreational facilities. At issue: the Democrats advocate more public-power projects and more Government control over the nation's resources; the Republicans believe their development must come through federal-state-local "partnerships," with all interested parties assuming equal responsibility.
AllPolitics home page|
Copyright © 1996 AllPolitics