An amazing Press conference by President Eisenhower

I had seen a quote that someone else posted by President Dwight Eisenhower and decided I needed to confirm authenticity. In doing so, I came across the following (edited to remove references to things like Dairy policy) transcript from a December 9, 1954 press conference. In it he covers:

  • Conservative Senator Joe McArthy’s attacks on moderate Republicans
  • The chances of moderate Democrats and Republicans forming a third party
  • The Constitutional duty of Congress to investigate executive conduct
  • The balance between deficit spending and financing vital public needs and how he struggled with that balancing

Most interesting, President Eisenhower clearly identified his branch of the Republican Party as Progressive Moderates. Of course Progressive had a different meaning in 1954 than it does today. Then, it was more clearly identified with President Theodore Roosevelt’s political reform including trust busting, election reforms and anti crony capitalism. It was a moderate and bridge building populism. Today, the term has been modified to mean either further left than liberal, or an anti corporate liberalism.

 

President Dwight D Eisenhower press conference

Washington DC

December 8, 1954

THE PRESIDENT: (opening remarks omitted)

Now we will go to questions.

  1. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Senator McCarthy has accused you of a shrinking show of weakness against Red China, and a failing to wage a vigorous fight against home front communism. I wonder, in view of the strong personal nature of his attack, you might have a reply for the Senator; and, two, what danger you see in what appears to be a declaration of war by McCarthy, what danger do you see to the Republican Party?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, now, in the first part the answer is, no. I do not indulge in personal vituperation or quarrels of any kind. I stand for positive things.

I have always upheld the right of the Congress to make legitimate investigations into the affairs and conduct of the executive departments, subject only to requirements of national security and very clear public interest.

As far as the civil rights of our people are concerned, I have tried to champion those in dozens of ways. I have even selected particular individuals and named them by name where I thought their services to our country had been unjustly deprecated.

I believe in positive things. I shall continue to believe in those things, and I am not going to engage in any kind of a personal quarrel with anybody on any subject that I can think of.

As for the effect on the Republican Party, I would suggest you go over and ask the Chairman, Mr. Hall, what his conclusions are on this thing, and what effects he sees.

… …

  1. Martin S. Hayden, Detroit News: Mr. President, I hope this question won’t require that you have a personal conflict, but there seems to be a prospect that the extreme right wing of your Republican Party might follow Senator McCarthy into a new party in 1956. I would like to ask you, sir, as the leader of the party, if you feel that would kill Republican chances of remaining in power?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, after all, I have no crystal ball, but I believe this: from the beginning I have tried to stand for something that is positive and progressive. I believe that the Federal Government has a continuous, definite obligation to study the needs of 163 million people, our standing abroad, our security from attack, and the arrangement of the connections between Government and our economy, our industries, and our individuals. These things must be studied intelligently, and they must be so provided for that the great productivity of our economy is shared in to the greatest possible extent by all of us.

That is the kind of a program that I stand for, and if there are enough people wanting to go along with it, then we have no fear. If people want to split off because of some other secondary or lesser consideration, that will have to be their business.

But I do know that so far as I can determine, the great mass of the people of the United States want intelligent and what I would call a group of progressive moderates handling their business. And that is exactly what I am working for.

… …

  1. Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, if you should decide not to be a candidate in 1956, would you be disposed to use your influence to bring about the nomination of a Republican nominee who would be in support of the policies and the program which you have been carrying out?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would put it this way: if I see the Republican nominee whom I believe to support the general philosophy of government in which I believe and which I have so often tried in my rough way to expound, of course I would be for him. I would be for him very, very strongly

Now, you proposed a question: would I try to help bring about his nomination? Don’t ask me to foresee exactly what the conditions of that moment are going to be, but I will support anybody that is the nominee that believes in that general philosophy.

… …

  1. Edward Jamieson Milne, Providence Journal-Bulletin: Mr. President, would you yourself be more or less likely to run again if the party were faced with a split in ’56?

THE PRESIDENT. I haven’t the slightest idea. And that is not being facetious; I just haven’t.

There are so many things–I’ll tell you: some day we’ll take a half hour, and I’ll try to give you my thinking maybe on these things, but I have no decision.

… …

  1. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, there have been some expressions by individual members of the Republican National Committee and officials of Citizens for Eisenhower individually in Washington, of late, that there is a great trend throughout the country for people to vote for the man and for the program, and not for the party label. Would that be in line with your thinking?

THE PRESIDENT. Of course, you always run into this great problem of smooth operations between the legislative and the executive department.

 

What I would hope is that we produce a group of fine, energetic, idealistic candidates, men and women of experience, and who believe in this program; then I don’t have that problem to settle, and I can just go out and support Republicans.

But I do believe that we must adopt and think in terms of what I would call moderate progressives–I don’t know of any better word-moderate in your attitude toward the functions of government, but progressive in carrying out those things that our people need.

… …

  1. Mr. Mollenhoff: I wondered if, in the light of the action taken by the Senate, you felt they had turned their back on you with regard to the Zwicker count?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no feeling about that.

But I do want to point out this: I think I said before, this morning, let’s don’t confuse these issues with the fundamental right of the Congress to make legitimate investigations of the executive departments. I believe in that, and I not only believe in it, I believe it is contemplated and directed in the Constitution. I believe we would certainly begin to go downhill unless we had it.

… …

  1. Mrs. May Craig, Maine Papers: Sir, how do you reconcile an expanded foreign aid program with our continued deficit financing in this country?

THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, I don’t know and never thought of it in those terms; I don’t know that I do completely reconcile it.

But let us remember this, to be repeated every time you say the words “foreign aid,” I don’t think those are good words. I think the word that we ought to use is “mutual security.” Anything that we go into in the world ouggh to be for the enlightened self-interest of 163 million people.

And we ought to judge–permit me to go on–we ought to judge every single one of these programs in which we are trying to assist Iran or Indochina or Indonesia or Japan or France or anybody else, we ought to weigh them, always starting from this viewpoint: what does the enlightened self-interest of the United States lead us to.

Then we also know that a balanced budget is good for a nation; because if you don’t, you tend toward inflation and toward the cheapening of money. That can lead to disastrous consequences.

You have to put these two requirements constantly against each other; and when you meet your minimum costs of Government and of this kind of thing, you have to say, “Now, how much taxes is good for our country?” because now you have another indeterminate factor entering this equation. If you relieve taxes on industry, how fast will it expand and give you more income at a lower tax rate? So you have constantly a changing equation of variables that never at any 2 successive days gives you exactly the same answer.

But I do say I don’t think I quite can reconcile completely the two except in the terms I have just given you.

… …

  1. Richard L. Wilson, Cowles Publications: Mr. President, do you think it is possible or practical to have a political grouping of these progressive moderates of whom you speak from both political parties, who would be more representative of the wishes of the people than either the Republican or the Democratic Party?

THE PRESIDENT. You raise a question in which there would be many imponderables. For example, just take a simple and material one. I understand that many State laws contemplate only two parties, and allow only two–I say many States–several States. So you would have to start in changing the State laws before you could do any such thing to start with.

But I think that we have got to probably use the mechanisms already devised and so well known to our people, and get one of them, at least, to stand in behind this doctrine; and I believe the Republicans should-behind this doctrine and this kind of a program–very earnestly and so seriously that the words “progressive,” “moderation,” in Government becomes synonymous with the party label.

That is really what I believe. And I think that can be probably better and more effectively done than you could make the kind of a regrouping which would be, as I understand what you mean, a third party, start a new party; it would be, I think, very difficult.

… …

  1. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, the new Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Paul Butler, said over the weekend that you personally have shown a lack of capacity to govern and unite the American people. Do you care to make any comment on that remark?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, again, I am not going to reply to an individual. I have heard these remarks before.

I will say this: I think too often politicians look into a looking glass instead of through a window. [Laughter]

The United States presents a broad vista of thinking, and I have a tremendous and profound faith in the general commonsense approach of the American people to our great problems. I believe, in general, they go along very earnestly with what we would call a progressive program, with moderation, in the terms that I have explained it before to you people.

Now, as to my abilities and inabilities, I hope I am not one of the egoists that can think only in terms of the vertical pronoun.

I suggest this to you, gentlemen, and ladies: for 2 years I have been meeting in front of this body, the personnel of which doesn’t seem to reflect any great change from week to week. I really ,believe you are better judges of interests, breadth of interests, and capacities and the kind of things we are trying to do, than is some politician who, looking in the glass, sees only reflections of doubt and fear and the kind of confusion that he often tries to create.

So, ladies and gentlemen, that particular question will have to be answered by you.

 

Merriman Smith, United Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

 

Note: President Eisenhower’s fifty-fifth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:33 to 11:02 o’clock on Wednesday morning, December 8, 1954. In attendance: 209.

Citation: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “The President’s News Conference,” December 8, 1954. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=10149.

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