"What can you possibly write about him?" an acquaintance asked at the start of my work on the Eisenhower Presidency. "So little happened when he was in office." Later, during the process of conducting interviews, a prominent civil rights leader had little to offer beyond recollecting that Ike had demonstrated that the country does not "need" a President. Others recalled the contemporary joke about the "Eisenhower doll": just wind it up and it does nothing for eight years. Yet, however widespread such reactions, they represented a minority of the American public. Much more common was the response of a small businessman from Lubbock, Texas. Learning that Eisenhower was my subject, he turned to his wife and said, with obvious admiration, "Now, there was a President!"
Neither a period of tranquillity nor extraordinary turmoil, considered in retrospect as perhaps our most successful postwar years, the Eisenhower era nevertheless contained not only the residue of the preceding decade but the germs that became endemic to the 1960s. For a historian who had twice voted for Stevenson, a foray into the period carried the almost automatic assumption that somehow the victory of the GOP led by a general -- or leading a general -- had resulted in negativism and waste, denying to the American people either the hope of what John F. Kennedy later branded the "New Frontier" or the more radical solution of a complete overhaul of society, capitalism and liberal democracy. Only a closer view of the situation as it existed can restore balance to that judgment. And no such consideration can possibly ignore the multitude of deeply felt currents, or crusades, that emanated from a democ