Good morning, it’s Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. Today is the birthday of Chester A. Arthur, one of six U.S. presidents born in October. I had intended to write an essay today about President Arthur, and his interesting (and one-sided) relationship with a woman who wrote him regular letters from her home in New York. But President Trump’s admission Friday to Walter Reed medical center, and his impromptu limousine escapade outside the facility while the White House press corps was in the dark about his condition, put me in mind of another president — one who was in a U.S. Army hospital 65 years ago today, and who would spend his 65th birthday still recuperating.
That chief executive, Dwight D. Eisenhower, left strict instructions to his staff. “Tell the truth, the whole truth,” Ike said. “Don’t try to conceal anything.” As National Journal White House correspondent George E. Condon Jr., noted, nine of Eisenhower’s 10 successors (John F. Kennedy being the exception) followed this script. Until now.
Except for their mutual love of golf, it’s hard to find similarities between Dwight Eisenhower and Donald Trump. But I’m not writing this morning to criticize the incumbent president — plenty of journalists are doing that already — but, instead, to pull out a dusty snapshot from a time and place when relations between White House correspondents and the executive branch were less adversarial. The place was Fitzsimons Army Hospital, a sprawling facility in suburban Denver. The time was the autumn of 1955.
Did it function better back then, this “shotgun marriage” between the president and the press? In some ways, sure, but not in every way. I’ll expound on that in a moment. First, though, let me point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
* * *
Biden Team Resists Chiding Trump Over COVID. Susan Crabtree and Phil Wegmann report that there has been no “I told you so” messaging from the campaign.
Harris’s Liberal Critics Say Inaction Against Utilities Helped Fuel Wildfires. Susan also examines claims that the Democratic vice presidential nominee was soft on utilities responsible for California’s infernos when she was attorney general.
Democrats May Soon Get the Electoral College Edge. Bill Scher explains why calls to get rid of often-derided system are short-sighted.
Ask Barrett About the Constitution, Not Catholicism. Frank Miele has advice for Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham.
How to Start a “Dumpster Fire” (and Prevent the Next One). K.S. Bruce complains that when a debate moderator embeds the opposition party’s talking points into the questions, it warps public perceptions of the ensuing discussion.
Debate Ignored National Debt. In RealClearMarkets, Andrew Wilford laments that an issue that ominously shadows the economy merited zero discussion by Trump and Biden last week.
Make America Greater Always. Steven Shafarman makes the case for a new, more unifying slogan for our nation, as well as universal basic income.
Be Afraid, Very Afraid. RealClearBooks has this excerpt from Michael Anton’s “The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return.”
American Christianity and the Social Justice Temptation. In RealClearReligion, Nathan Berkeley and Phil Rexroth argue that many tenets of the social justice movement are incompatible with a Christian view of the human person and of reality.
* * *
America’s 34th president flew to Denver on Aug. 14, 1955, for what White House aides described as a “work and play vacation” scheduled to last through the end of September. Texas-born and Kansas-raised, Eisenhower loved Colorado, where he also had family roots. First lady Mamie Eisenhower had moved there as a young girl, and still had family there. She and Ike were wed in Denver; their first son, Doud, who died of scarlet fever in 1921, was buried there; their other son, John, was born there.
In any event, President Eisenhower settled in for a long Colorado stay in the summer and fall of 1955. Ike’s typical workdays were spent at Lowry Air Force Base, which, along with Fitzsimons hospital, has been closed for many years now. He found time to fly-fish in the mountain creeks of Byers Peak Ranch outside Winter Park and, of course, to ply the links at local golf courses.
It was while playing a round at Cherry Hills Golf Club that Ike started feeling ill. On the evening of Sept. 23, he went to bed early at his brother-in-law’s home where he and Mamie were staying, and awoke the following morning with chest pains.
After a delay of several hours, which would be major fodder for cable news today, his personal doctor sent for a heart specialist from Fitzsimons hospital. An electrocardiogram showed that the famous patient had suffered a massive heart attack, and he was rushed by the Secret Service to Fitzsimons itself.
The storied hospital was built by the Army during World War I to accommodate America’s wartime casualties. Named after the first American serviceman to die in that conflict, it is also where a near-president, John F. Kerry, was born.
Although White House aides initially downplayed the severity of Ike’s condition, the full diagnosis was soon made public per the president’s own instructions. When it became clear that Ike’s convalescence would be lengthy, Mamie was given an adjoining suite at Fitzsimons, and a parade of U.S. politicians and foreign dignitaries made their way to Colorado to pay their respects. It fell to the first lady to assure those who loved Eisenhower that he was getting better, a task she performed by dutifully appearing on an eighth-floor balcony to wave to well-wishers.
Gifts and flowers arrived, too, most of which were quietly dispensed to the families of other patients or the hospital staff. Two presents were kept by Ike, and apparently appreciated. These were a western necktie and pair of maroon pajamas given to Eisenhower by the White House press corps on his Oct. 14 birthday.
The pajamas came with the phrase “Much Better Thanks” embroidered on the left pocket as well as five stars on each collar, a shout-out to Eisenhower’s uniform when he was a five-star Army general. As the National Archives noted astutely in a feature story posted on its website four years ago, photographs of Ike in those pajamas show a sixth star, on his chest. The added star came from his physician, Dr. Paul White, who explained that it was for the “good conduct” exhibited by the famously restless First Patient.
That’s an interest wording, “patient,” isn’t it? However counterintuitive it seems to men and women of action, patience is the very trait often required to recuperate, and to be an effective leader.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics