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Government & Politics

Tomorrow, Can Obama Be Like Ike?

By Mary Beth Wood

President Obama delivers a speech in the rose garden

On February 25, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) held a foreign policy summit to gain public and political support at a time when Congress had slashed his foreign aid budget. Sixty years later to the date, President Obama will hold a summit to gain support for healthcare reform.
Two American University experts, James Thurber, professor of government at AU’s School of Public Affairs, and Jordan Tama, professor of U.S. Foreign Policy at AU’s School of International Service and former advisor to Barack Obama, believe that there are cues the Obama administration should take from Eisenhower in order to win the battle. Their work examines the changing role between the U.S. president and Congress over the course of the last half-century.

Thurber suggests that the president should take a close look at how Eisenhower changed his political strategy and why Congressional decision making worked in favor of our country.  

Tama states “Eisenhower was very diplomatic and had no problem letting other people take credit as long as they did the right thing. The nature of Obama’s leadership style is based on being bipartisan and trying to find a common ground. Eisenhower was effective in his work with Congress because he too took a bipartisan approach and met regularly with democratic and republican leaders of Congress in the hope of reaching a compromise.”

Both Thurber and Tama agree that like Eisenhower, Obama knows how to use the media to his advantage to gain popular support. “Eisenhower knew how to play the game in terms of politics and he used this to his advantage when Congressional tension was at an all-time high,” according to Thurber. “Whereas early in his presidency Eisenhower was criticized for being too passive in times of conflict, he quickly learned that the key to overcoming his opponents was to use the press and so he flooded the media with editorial letters to Congress.”  

“At this point, Congress is experiencing extreme partisanship and deadlock, thus it is almost impossible for them to solve the major national problem of a jobless economic recovery. Many members of Congress lack civility, comity and have little trust of members of the opposite party. There is also inter chamber conflict; the House and Senate don’t even trust each other. When there is a clear threat to the United States or consensus about a problem, Congress can move fast and react to that threat like with the 9-11 attacks, but when it comes to national major domestic problems, Congress moves slow or not at all. During Eisenhower's administration, it was not a legislatively active period. There was more bipartisanship and civility and they were able to act quickly when the U.S. was threatened such as was the case when the NDEA passed because of Sputnik.”

Both Thurber and Tama are eager to see what Obama has to say at his Healthcare Summit.