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Ike: The Original Teflon President?

October 11, 1990 GMT

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) _ On the 100th anniversary of his birth, some historians and political scientists are saying Dwight D. Eisenhower was a ″Teflon President″ before the term was invented.

″Eisenhower got very little mud on his clothes and when he did, we cleaned it off for him. Even in a period of revisionism, we still like Ike intensely. Even John F. Kennedy didn’t get this kind of treatment,″ said John Robert Greene of Cazenovia College near Syracuse, N.Y.

″He is the middle-class personified more than any other president of the post-war. He is middle America,″ Greene said.


A five-day conference on Eisenhower’s presidency is being held this week at Gettysburg College, near the farm Eisenhower purchased in 1951. The meetings conclude Sunday with Ike’s grandson David, former President Ford and entertainer Bob Hope cutting a birthday cake. Eisenhower was born Oct. 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas. He died in 1969.

″We’re examining the eight years he was president: examining the policies that Eisenhower set in motion and analyzing what effects those policies had on successive presidents,″ said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a professor of political science at the college and the director of the symposium.

Such a broad look at Eisenhower is unprecedented, she said.

″The Eisenhower years were followed by John F. Kennedy and Camelot and the New Frontier. Then came Johnson and the Great Society and Vietnam. Then we had Nixon and Watergate,″ Warshaw said.

″Scholars were so captivated by the post-modern presidency that we have passed over Eisenhower,″ she said.

The term ″Teflon president,″ referring to a president’s ability to keep bad news from sticking to him, was first used to describe former President Reagan. Teflon, a registered trademark for a non-stick surface, wasn’t marketed for kitchens until the 1960s.

It’s not as though Ike was squeaky clean.

″Eisenhower supported far more covert activities than the public knows,″ Warshaw said. ″His role in the McCarthy hearings was significant.″

Despite his sending in troops to force school integration in Little Rock, Ark., ″Eisenhower was not a civil rights activist,″ Warshaw said.

While Eisenhower retained his image as World War II hero and family man, the glitter of the Kennedy presidency began to fade shortly after JFK’s assassination. Americans criticized the young president immediately for the Bay of Pigs disaster and later for planting the seeds of a major escalation in Vietnam.

President Johnson suffered more with Vietnam, as did President Nixon, who also had to worry about Watergate. Ford had to live down pardoning Nixon.

Eisenhower also had sent military advisers to Vietnam, and strung Nixon along while deciding who would be No. 2 on his ticket. A bigger dose for forgiveness came after it was disclosed he hadn’t been candid about the shooting down of a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union in 1960, Greene said.

″We didn’t ignore the lie. We ignored the liar,″ Greene said. ″What would happen today if one of our spy planes was shot down over Egypt and disappears and we come out and say it was a communications plane? Would the opposition party let him get away with it?″

″I like to use Ike as a verb,″ Greene said. ″To ike someone is not to ignore their faults but to accept the fact that their faults were less important than their virtues.″

Eisenhower also has earned his place as the United States’ neighborly president mostly because others had a few quirks, Greene said.

″Truman is the crazy slug next door who wears the Hawaiian shirt sipping a pina colada. Johnson would peer through the bushes to see your teen-aged daughter sunbathing, and Kennedy would be there with him.

″Nixon wouldn’t come out of the house. Ford ... would be the friendly neighbor. Carter would be the guy who would let you know if your dog walked across your yard.

″Reagan, you would see his wife more than see him. And Bush; it would be like meeting Chevy Chase in ‘Caddyshack,’ with the golf club slung over his shoulder.

″But Eisenhower. He’s the perfect next-door neighbor,″ Greene said. ″He could borrow your lawn mower and you’d probably get it back.″