How Eisen­hower qui­etly dis­armed Joe McCarthy.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY JAMES LEDBETTER James Ledbetter, the ed­i­tor of Inc. mag­a­zine, is the au­thor of “Un­war­ranted In­flu­ence: Dwight D. Eisen­hower and the Mil­i­tary-In­dus­trial Com­plex” and “One Na­tion Un­der Gold: How One Pre­cious Metal Has Dom­i­nated the Amer­i­can Ima­gin

Joseph McCarthy’s reign over Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal life was fe­ro­cious and would res­onate for decades. It was, how­ever, rel­a­tively brief — a mere four years, span­ning his 1950 “en­e­mies within” speech in Wheel­ing, W.Va., through his for­mal cen­sure by the Se­nate in 1954. Although he served in the Se­nate for more than 10 years, McCarthy was, as it were, a one-term dem­a­gogue.

Of course, no one at the time could have known how long McCarthy would be able to con­tinue his often base­less ac­cu­sa­tions and de­struc­tion of peo­ple’s lives to score cheap po­lit­i­cal points. There were cer­tainly mo­ments dur­ing those four years when McCarthy seemed like a vi­able can­di­date for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

The man most re­spon­si­ble for check­ing McCarthy’s po­lit­i­cal power was Dwight Eisen­hower, who mar­shaled the re­spon­si­ble sec­tors of the Repub­li­can Party and de­liv­ered the White House (twice) to the GOP for the first time in decades. To many, how­ever, Eisen­hower seemed un­will­ing or un­able to fully de­nounce McCarthy, ei­ther for rea­sons of per­sonal tem­per­a­ment or po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion. The per­cep­tion that Ike shied away from con­fronting McCarthy per­sists in his­tor­i­cal es­ti­ma­tion. In a gen­er­ally fa­vor­able 2002 bi­og­ra­phy, for ex­am­ple, jour­nal­ist Tom Wicker crit­i­cized Eisen­hower be­cause he “im­pressed on Amer­i­cans no moral out­rage at McCarthy’s sins against de­cency.”

In his new book, sea­soned Eisen­hower his­to­rian David A. Ni­chols sets out to cor­rect the record. Draw­ing on “eyes only” doc­u­ments that now re­side in the Eisen­hower Li­brary, Ni­chols adamantly main­tains that un­be­knownst to nearly ev­ery­one, Eisen­hower and some dis­creet aides car­ried out a de­lib­er­ate cam­paign for years de­signed to dis­arm McCarthy. Ni­chols sees Eisen­hower as a mas­ter of “hid­den hand” man­age­ment; the au­thor cites his debt to Fred Green­stein, who por­trayed this Eisen­hower style in his 1982 book, “The Hid­den Hand Pres­i­dency.”

On a per­sonal level, Eisen­hower de­spised McCarthy and his meth­ods. Ike went out of his way not to men­tion the sen­a­tor by name. “Noth­ing will be so ef­fec­tive in com­bat­ing his par­tic­u­lar kind of trou­ble-mak­ing as to ig­nore him,” Eisen­hower wrote in his di­ary. “This he can­not stand.”

But be­hind the scenes, Eisen­hower had no in­ten­tion of ig­nor­ing McCarthy. The sen­a­tor’s at­tacks on Gen. Ge­orge Mar­shall, and later on Eisen­hower’s beloved Army, were sim­ply too much to abide. In­deed, Eisen­hower may have felt him­self vul­ner­a­ble to McCarthy’s at­tacks. It is largely for­got­ten to­day, but some in the Taft wing of the Repub­li­can Party con­sid­ered Eisen­hower to be a com­mu­nist ap­peaser, and at the end of World War II, Eisen­hower col­lab­o­rated with Soviet lead­ers in ways that could be pre­sented in an un­flat­ter­ing light.

Even with­out McCarthy di­rectly at­tack­ing Eisen­hower, the two men were likely to clash. McCarthy tried to block Eisen­hower’s ap­point­ments; he sec­ond-guessed his for­eign pol­icy; and he un­der­mined Eisen­hower’s brand of anti-com­mu­nism. McCarthy, Ni­chols writes, “had no re­spect for the pres­i­dent or his loyal sub­or­di­nates.” Once McCarthy be­gan a sus­tained at­tack on the Army, os­ten­si­bly prompted by the pres­ence of Com­mu­nist Party mem­bers at Fort Mon­mouth in New Jersey, it was in­evitable that he would be­come the tar­get of Eisen­hower’s anger.

The dif­fi­cult question was: Where was McCarthy most vul­ner­a­ble? The sen­a­tor was un­usu­ally de­pen­dent on a com­bat­ive young lawyer, Roy Cohn. And Cohn, for his part, seemed in­fat­u­ated with an un­paid con­sul­tant on McCarthy’s Se­nate com­mit­tee, David Schine, who was drafted into the Army in late 1953.

In a fate­ful 90-minute meet­ing on Jan. 21, 1954, in the of­fice of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Herbert Brownell, top aides to Eisen­hower de­cided not only to in­voke ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege to keep Army of­fi­cials from com­ply­ing with McCarthy’s sub­poe­nas but also to com­pile all the stron­garm at­tempts Cohn had made to seek spe­cial priv­i­leges for Schine. These in­cluded ex­ces­sive week­end and night passes and re­lief from KP duty and var­i­ous drills.

That doc­u­ment, which in its raw form ap­par­ently was two inches thick, was later shown to mul­ti­ple jour­nal­ists, in­clud­ing the in­flu­en­tial colum­nist Joseph Al­sop, well be­fore the Army re­leased it. From a pub­lic opin­ion stand­point, it was bad enough that Cohn seemed to be tar­get­ing the Army as a way of gain­ing priv­i­leges for his col­league. But the un­spo­ken im­pli­ca­tion was that Cohn and Schine were lovers. That im­pres­sion had al­ready been cre­ated by the pair’s sopho­moric an­tics — such as swat­ting each other with a rolled-up mag­a­zine in a ho­tel lobby — while trav­el­ing through Europe try­ing to find com­mu­nist lit­er­a­ture in the li­braries of the U.S. In­for­ma­tion Agency; the press dubbed them “the Gold Dust Twins.” For Schine to be shirk­ing Army du­ties to ap­pear with Cohn in restau­rants and ho­tels of­fended many sen­si­bil­i­ties in Wash­ing­ton. Although Ni­chols does not dwell on it, the idea that anti-gay in­nu­endo was the very ef­fec­tive weapon of choice may have been one rea­son Eisen­hower wanted to keep his dis­tance from the at­tack on McCarthy.

The bet­ter-known blows against McCarthy that later ap­pear in pub­lic — Ed­ward Mur­row’s crit­i­cal broad­cast, the tele­vised ArmyMcCart­hy hear­ings that cli­max in the fa­mous “Have you no sense of de­cency?” barb — are merely the cul­mi­na­tion of the com­man­der-level plan­ning from the White House. In­deed, the lawyer who asked that with­er­ing question of McCarthy, Joseph Welch, had been guided to the Se­nate com­mit­tee, Ni­chols shows, by none other than Eisen­hower him­self.

There are times when Ni­chols’s pis­tols don’t quite smoke; we read of of­fi­cials who are “prob­a­bly” or “per­haps” act­ing with a par­tic­u­lar mo­tive, and of peo­ple who are pre­sumed but not proved to be act­ing on the pres­i­dent’s be­half. This isn’t Ni­chols’s fault as much as a limit of the his­tor­i­cal record; still, such phrases oc­ca­sion­ally cause the reader’s eye­brows to raise.

Nonethe­less Ni­chols has pro­vided a grip­ping, de­tailed ac­count of how the ex­ec­u­tive branch sub­tly but de­ci­sively de­feated one of Amer­ica’s most dan­ger­ous dem­a­gogues. In to­day’s in­cen­di­ary pol­i­tics, the hid­den hand is out of fash­ion. But the need to bat­tle dem­a­goguery is as top­i­cal as ever.


IKE AND MCCARTHY Dwight Eisen­hower’s Se­cret Cam­paign Against Joseph McCarthy By David A. Ni­chols Si­mon & Schus­ter. 385 pp. $27.95

Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower, top, dis­liked Sen. Joseph McCarthy, above, and made it a point to never men­tion him by name.

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