It is rare that one man comes to symbolize an era. If the decade of the 1950s is known as the age of Eisenhower, the red, white, and blue “I Like Ike” campaign button is its emblem, its dominant image the motorcade with the famous general standing in a black limousine, arms upraised, hands waving, eyes gleaming beneath the wide forehead and thinning hair, his mouth curled upward in a broad grin.
The crowds along the curb cheer as he passes. Shoved against the police lines are Americans of all ages, incomes, ethnic groups, and avocations: men, women, and children, whites, blacks, Latinos, Poles, Greeks, Asians, Southerners, Midwesterners, blue- and white-collar workers, and farmers. Some are in uniform. Many are veterans. As his car appears they turn to watch, their eyes transfixed on the almost mythical figure until he recedes into the distance. They are comforted and hopeful. Their hero in the recent victory over Nazi Germany has accepted their call to protect them again, this time from the Soviet menace.
That Eisenhower was elected President of the United States in 1952 was nonetheless, to some observers, surprising. That four years later he was elected to a second term with the largest majority in history was to them remarkable. As a military professional he had never voted, not even declaring a party affiliation until just before becoming a presidential candidate. How, they asked, could he have been such a success both as a soldier and as a President? Few historians seemed aware of Eisenhower's unique character, education, and experience.
Part of the confusion arose both from a lack of archival research and the perspective of time. The 1950s has long been viewed as a happy time of peace, prosperity, and complacency, with increasing numbers of Americans turning to individual, often selfish pursuits— a job in a large corporation, a house in the suburbs, a new car in the