Architects of Power

Article excerpt

How Roosevelt and Eisenhower transformed the United States into a global superpower.

There have been 43 American citizens who have served as president.

For historians, academics, and pundits of all political stripes, this

select group of political leaders is an endless source of writing

material. Unfortunately, the interpretation, reinterpretation, and

occasional misinterpretation of presidential histories are growing

concerns. We're often learning today that some of what we read and

learned about America's political leaders in the past wasn't,

well, all that learned to begin with.

But hope springs eternal. Consider some recent evaluations of George

Washington (Richard Brookhiser's "Founding Father: Rediscovering

George Washington"), John Adams (David McCullough's "John

Adams"), Thomas Jefferson (Joseph J. Ellis's "American Sphinx:

The Character of Thomas Jefferson"), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt

(Conrad Black's "Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of

Freedom"). To their credit, these authors have either shed new

light on their subject matter, or created a stunning reversal of

previously held assumptions about a particular president. That's

great news, as it helps us escape the ideological tsunami and

properly analyze commanders in chief according to ability and

leadership qualities.

The latest book to add to this impressive list is Philip Terzian's

Architects of Power: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and the American Century.

Terzian is the literary editor of The Weekly Standard, and was a

finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Commentary in 1991 while writing for

the Providence Journal-Bulletin. Terzian has produced a scintillating

analysis of two political polar opposites, FDR and Dwight D.

Eisenhower, and proved both men played critical roles in transforming

America into a global superpower. (Full disclosure: I know Terzian,

and he has edited my contributions to the Standard.)

On the surface, finding common ground between FDR and Eisenhower

would be a daunting task for any writer, even one as talented as

Terzian. FDR was "not a notably reflective man, and what

self-analysis he may have undertaken in his lifetime he kept to

himself." He was unique in that he was a Democrat "in a

predominantly Republican clan," and "was not a hero-worshipper by

instinct and tended to be jealous of contemporaries." Meanwhile,

Eisenhower was a military man who "did not come from a family with

a military tradition." He was a "superior student, with a

considerable competitive streak, and a voracious reader." And as

Terzian points out, "just as no one anticipated Franklin

Roosevelt's future in his youth, nobody would have recognized in

the young Dwight Eisenhower the historic figure he would become. …