Tony Leon Columnist



At the height of America’s postwar supremacy in the 1950s, which birthed the baby boomer generation and saw the US standard of living soar, the country’s 34th president was emblematic of its elevated national mood and international standing.

President Dwight D (“Ike”) Eisenhower — supreme allied commander in Europe during the war and thereafter chief of staff of the US army — converted a stellar military career into a hugely popular two-term presidency.

While some found his style vapid and accomplishments in office tepid, he left the presidency after eight years almost as popular as when he entered it. He also helped contain the rising temperature of the Cold War and ended the hot conflicts in Korea and Berlin. Most of all, he presided over rising prosperity at home.

It is difficult from today’s vantage point of hyperpolarised Washington, where political divisions are as entrenched perhaps as they are in SA, to remember that Eisenhower’s Republican Party label was almost as accidental as his presidency. He did not thirst to be president but was sought for it by party bosses, both Republican and Democrat.  The fact that he preferred golf and an evening scotch and soda to the grim business of party politics gave meaning to the putdown provided by some intellectuals of his political programme: “His smile was his philosophy.” America has replaced the smile with a snarl, and while Twitter in the 1950s was birdsong, today it is the essential means of communication for the 45th president of the US. Last week in SA, we elected a president who also enjoys golf and his beaming face from election posters and billboards might also suggest, in the absence of hard evidence of what he might do in office over the next five or 10 years, that his smile is also hi...

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