Ike’s win in 1952 can be attributed to a case of national insecurity.
Readers in search of the meaning of the election—as who is not?— may make a selection from the variety of explanations offered by the distinguished contributors to the symposium published in this issue. But one meaning we reject: that the election can be regarded solely as a personal triumph for General Eisenhower. That it was a personal triumph goes without saying. But not to realize that it was a great deal more is to underestimate the emotions of the impressive majority whose votes swept the General into power. It is also to misread past events and likely future developments.
For us the outstanding fact which emerged from the Eisenhower victory is the feeling of insecurity that pervades the American electorate. Obviously Eisenhower had no program that could provide security. Obviously Stevenson was talking sense, and the record of the Democratic Party in historical perspective offered a firmer basis of security than did the Republican Party, its leadership, or Eisenhower’s “team.” But sense was rolled under by a wave of anxiety such as the American people had seldom experienced, and it was on this wave that Eisenhower rode to victory.
The components of the voters’ mood were fear of the extension of the Korean war and desperation over the long stalemate, fear of communism stimulated by the unbridled campaign joined in by Democrats and Republicans alike, fear of economic collapse produced by inflation, high taxes, and doubt about America’s ability to remain prosperous without war or war preparations. The Democrats showed little creative initiative in the campaign. It was Eisenhower who broke the ice in which the key issue of Korea had been encased, more by accident than by design, and once the issue was in the open, public feeling found expression. It did not matter that the General had nothing specific to propose, or that what he did say was empty and demagogic. He relieved anxiety by seeming to make the issue paramount, by insisting that he would do something about it. The Democrats, on the other hand, failed to recognize the intensity of the feeling; their negative attitude was taken as indifference by those whose indignation had been aroused by the stalemate and continued losses in Korea.
On the issue of inflation the Democrats angered millions of voters by overdoing their claim that Americans “never had it so good.” Squeezed by mounting taxes and high prices, many voters were under an enormous strain; if you are broke, there is nothing much to worry about, but inflation creates special neuroses. Again, it mattered little that the Republicans had a much worse record in Congress on all measures relating to inflation; at least they did not outrage the feelings of the man in the street, or more particularly the woman in the home, by a cynical slogan and the assumption that everybody was rich and comfortable.
A corollary factor was the issue of corruption. Americans particularly resent corruption and favoritism in the collection of taxes. The Nixon affair indicates that integrity is not a partisan virtue, but what aroused millions of voters was the complacent attitude of the President and some of his closest advisers toward revelations of widespread if rather petty venality in the Administration. To point back to the grand-scale corruption of the last Republican regime was of no avail in offsetting recent scandals.