Am I an Eisenhower Republican?

Fellow Madison blogger David Blaska has accused me of being an Eisenhower Republican.

I think I’ll take that as a compliment.

Dwight Eisenhower was my President when I was born in 1959. Consider these things about Eisenhower:

His proudest accomplishment was the Interstate Highway System, the biggest single public works project in American history. (FDR’s WPA was bigger, but that wasn’t just one project.) How’s that for believing in what government can accomplish? But, when he saw the system tearing through Washington, DC, he expressed shock at what it might do to cities — a concern I shared thirty years later as an environmentalist.

The top Federal income tax rate during the Eisenhower administration was 91% compared to 35% today. And there were 24 brackets compared to six today. It was a much more progressive tax system.

After Brown v. Board of Education, Eisenhower sent Federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school desegregation.

Ike detested Joe McCarthy, although I can’t give him too much credit for this one as he passed on an opportunity to criticize the Wisconsin senator in his home state when he had the chance.

On his way out of office, Eisenhower warned about the cozy relationship between the Pentagon and defense contractors — “the military-industrial complex.”

Ike. What’s not to like?

That’s what the leading American conservative looked like in 1959. In fact, the Democratic nominee in 1960, John Kennedy, ran on a tax cut and an even stronger national defense. JFK even made up a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union that didn’t exist. So, if Blaska or anybody else wants to accuse me of being anything like Dwight Eisenhower, at least on these scores, I’ll stipulate to the charge.

I’ve had even more reason to feel like a classic Republican in my recent back and forth with my fellow Wall Street Journal readers. The Journal wrote a ridiculous editorial attacking Disney for opposing Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill and basically saying that the company had it coming when state Republicans passed a bill taking away their special local service jurisdiction. Now, in fact I thought liberals over-reacted to what they dubbed “don’t say gay” and took the culture wars bait, but I also believe that private companies can do what they feel is best for them. So, I jumped in on the commentary fun. I thought I’d share it with you below.

Me: You guys (the WSJ editorial board) cannot be serious. In the first case, Disney is a private company making decisions that it thinks are in its best long-run interests. So, it wants to capture young consumers, who are more liberal on this stuff, so it moves in their direction. I don’t like it, but who cares? Disney must do what’s best for Disney. In the second case, Disney’s special district operates much more efficiently and has done a much better job of environmental stewardship than the surrounding public entities. Whatever happened to the old Wall Street Journal, which recognized the efficiencies and advantages of the free market?

Reader Michael Hayes responded: Thanks for this post. I was getting worried that there were no more free market conservatives posting on WSJ articles anymore.

So there ya go, people. I am a certified “free market conservative” as recognized by the readers (well, one reader) of the preeminent business publication in America.

Seriously, we don’t have a free market party in America anymore. If anything, the Democrats are actually closer to it these days then the Republicans, who have become the party of one culture wars issue after another even when the hard-right position goes against market principles.

If I had to make a choice between Eisenhower and today’s Wall Street Journal apologists for Trump populism, well, I like Ike.

Want to read more curiously conservative views from a liberal? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “Am I an Eisenhower Republican?

  1. Now there’s a rebuttal for Dems to run on when they get accused of being socialists for wanting to reform tax brackets so the ultra rich pay a modestly fairer share. We’re just trying to restore Eisenhower’s legacy!


  2. Classic/traditional Moderate Republicans still exist in Wisconsin, in fact a lot of them as evidenced by the 38,000+ votes I received in the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Despite having raised just $10.00 in outside campaign contributions. I ran that year as an Anti-Public Choice Theory Economic Republican… every last one of those 38K votes were Republicans who apparently appreciated having an alternative to Scott Walker’s platform. I can’t imagine every last one of those people having vanished since, or, going to the extreme Right. I’m actually a declared candidate again this year, but almost nobody would know because of press censorship. I’m not one of the “Main” candidates per the Madison and Milwaukee “press” — see I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that it isn’t just Centrist Dems who might be under-represented here. And BTW why is it OK for “journalists” to decide which candidates (and especially early on) the electorate gets to know about? How does that support our practice of democracy? Which seems to be going so badly these days that 60 Minutes actually had to run a segment on how backwards Wisconsin has become.


    1. Fair point. I fall into the same trap. With something like a dozen people running — or coming in and out — for the Democratic Senate nomination, it would be hard to write about more than the leading four candidates. In addition, readers would find it tedious, I think. So, at least on my part, it’s not done out of a desire to exclude anyone. It’s just the practical considerations associated with trying to write an interesting and coherent piece.


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