IT is President Eisenhower’s hope that atomic firepower will keep the peace and that if war breaks out it will be held to a small scale. In press conference and before Congress he so explained his endeavor to stabilize the situation in the Formosa Straits. In that, he was required to take an ambiguous position before the world. But in arraying United States power there, it was still his purpose to get American policy moving toward a modus vivendi with the bellicose regime at Peiping.
The President had to resist powerful pressures within his own government for immediate measures to suppress any further growth in the strength of Red China. Those pressures continue to exist. The leading advocates of them are Walter S. Robertson, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, and Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Their ideas are incompatible with any sustained coexistence, and as long as their pressure persists, there is the danger of irresolution in policy.
In giving China policy a new direction, the President discarded forever the cherished Republican illusion that one day the Nationalist Government could re-establish itself on the mainland by means of armed invasion. Chiang Kai-shek himself is no longer permitted to believe that the United States entertains any such illusions. Privately this policy is accompanied by the hope — in some, the belief — that the Red regime will eventually collapse from internal weakness. No guesses are made as to when.
The President’s project for stabilizing the Formosa area was in line with other major decisions. W hen he took office, the United States was actually having three wars with Communist China. One, a direct engagement, was in Korea. The second, a less direct confrontation, was in Indochina, where we were supporting the French at the rate of nearly a billion dollars a year. The third was represented by our open commitment to defend Formosa. President Eisenhower achieved an armistice in the first and accepted a settlement of the second. His dramatic action in respect to Formosa had the purpose of neutralizing Chiang and still holding the Pescadores and Formosa.
No alternative to peace
Behind t hese conspicuous actions were two others, taken in secret councils of the government. One was the President’s decision last spring against atomic intervention in the Indochinese war to save Dienbienphu. The second occurred in September when he overruled a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Communist assaults on Quemoy be met by American bombing of the mainland. His January proposal on Formosa was saved from being a reversal of this by the introduction of a new clement: ihe thesis that attack on Quemoy would be construed as a preliminary to an attack on Formosa.
It was in the Indochina episode that the issue of atomic warfare appears to have been borne in upon the President in its starkest meaning. He consistently resisted the idea of atomic war from then on, and in the autumn he made his public declaration that there is no alternative to peace. Since then he has developed his thinking.
He displays an awareness that to signal the use of atomic weapons would probably be to bring them down on this country. He has realized, too, that the nervous readiness not too long ago to use such weapons had adverse effects in world politics which would be multiplied beyond calculation by their actual launching.
If fighting breaks out on the perimeter apart from Europe, the President hopes it can be held down to small scale, dealt with by indigenous allied forces, perhaps helped by light, mobile American units. And he plainly allows himself to think, also, that if a big war comes, it can be kept “conventional.”
The President personally directed a redistribution of emphasis in our military forces to fit these concepts. It had been a working hypothesis in Washington that the military retailoring job, especially the reduction of army strength, was attributable to budgetary considerations. The hypothesis is incorrect. The budget undoubtedly played a part. That could scarcely be avoided. The presidential design, however, was to turn the direction of military policy away from exclusive reliance on atoms for victory. The early thesis of the Administration was that keeping two kinds of strength, atomic and conventional, was foolishly expensive, and atomic strength won preference. Now, atomic strength has been shifted back into a primarily deterrent role.
Helping the states to help themselves
Despite the hold-tho-line tax policy this year, the Administration is putting tax reduction ahead of a balanced budget. Secretary Humphrey hopes he will be talking tax cuts at this time next year; about a balanced budget, he is not so sure. The reason: not politics, but Humphrey’s belief that the tax burden is at present too great for the proper functioning of the money incentive he regards as indispensable in a free economy.
But the goal of the balanced budget is not abandoned, and because it is currently incompatible with the expensive politics of militant welfare, the Administration is prompted to attempt some legerdemain. There has been much talk of using federal corporations, with authority to issue bonds, for financing programs too expensive for the budget or the debt limit. Senator Byrd doesn’t like it.
There has been talk, too, of “partnership” with states and lesser governmental units and with private people. For example, in the highway program, suddenly, the federal government was ready to be extraordinarily generous — if the states would do their share — but nothing definite was proposed to help the states find the money. As the proposals came along, each accompanied by declaration that it would strengthen the people without aggrandizement of the federal power, the recurring question was, how?
To take one example, the President has again proposed his health reinsurance program, requiring only a modest federal outlay and leaving most of the responsibility to private health insurance groups. Beyond that, he would water roots. He would expand research and training, help the building of medical facilities and the training of medical personnel, attack problems of air and water pollution, continue grants for hospital construction, maintain federal and federally aided health services across the nation, and foster atomic medicine.
In respect to the development of natural resources, Eisenhower argues almost sternly that it needs more local and private initiative, and that where the federal government enters, it should do so only as a partner. Definition of the boundary of federal responsibility is lacking. Its determination seems to be on an ad hoc basis.
Politically, the Eisenhower position raises the question whether the public will applaud it for what it is not but is advertised to be — a “welfare” program — or whether the public will perceive what it is, a massive retreat of the federal power, and applaud that.
The pressures on Eisenhower
Apart from the program itself, Eisenhower’s political position may depend in good part on the public judgment as to the quality of his stewardship. It is a favorite belief of Vice President Richard M. Nixon that people in the main forget details like the ayes and noes on a tax cut amendment, and form their political decisions on total, cumulative impressions of a public man.
In the stewardship line, Eisenhower has plusses and minuses, but one of his men, Defense Secretary Charles E. Wilson, has guaranteed a tour de force. He proposes to save $1.75 billion without knowing, at the moment, just where. The various budgetary allotments in his department come to $35.75 billion. The total entered is $34 billion. Wilson says he will come out at that figure just by good housekeeping as he goes along.
In attempting to make his position a party position, useful next year, the President is up against the fact that it is only the right of his party which exerts pressure on him and pushes for its own, usually negative, purposes. To some extent, therefore, the program becomes an accommodation of Eisenhower’s own views to the necessities of dealing with the right, which knows what it wants — and doesn’t want.
Federal aid for school buildings
The inner struggle between the spirit of economy in President Eisenhower and his sense of obligation to be bold and dynamic was nowhere more apparent than in his handling of the problem of emergency federal aid for school construction.
In his State of the Union message in 1954 he had said the federal government “should stand ready to assist states which demonstrably cannot provide sufficient school buildings.”
Yet the budget he has now submitted for the fiscal year 1956 carried no funds to aid school construction except those for a continuing program in what are horribly described as “federally-impacted areas.” At the last minute, however, after the budget was frozen, the President evidently decided that further studies would not be enough. He committed himself, in his State of the Union message, and again in the text ual portion of his budget message, to action now.
At the same time, the strategic situation in Congress improved. The Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare opened hearings late in January on five aid-to-education bills. Bipartisan and bicameral support developed for a straightforward bill drawn by Representative Carroll D. Kearns, Pennsylvania Republican. His Democratic colleague on the Education and Labor Committee, Representative Cleveland Bailey of West Virginia, put his name on it. — the first time in Kearns’s eight years in the House that such a measure gained bipartisan sponsorship. In the upper branch, Senator Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota Democrat, and the Republican Senators Irving M. Ives of New York and James H. Duff of Pennsylvania joined up, and the Kearns proposal won the sympathetic consideration of Senator Lister Hill.
The Kearns bill is the simplest of all. In its opening passage it recognizes the primary responsibility of states and local communities for education, credits them with “vigorous efforts” to provide classrooms, blames the current shortage on “abnormal conditions” throughout the country for the past twenty-five years, and declares that the situation threatens the “security and welfare of the people as a whole.” With that rationale, it is established that the “national interest” requires federal aid.
The bill would provide for federal payments to state educational agencies “to the extent necessary to provide school facilities adequate to” the needs of the states and localities. It contains no fixed appropriation, carrying instead an authorization, covering the next fiscal year and the five years after that, for such appropriations as are necessary.
From that money, a state would be allotted a portion of the total fund corresponding to the ratio of its schoolage population to the total school-age population. All children five to seventeen, inclusive, would be counted. The bill closes with a ringing prohibition against federal interference in “personnel, curriculum, or program of instruction.”
Friends of the measure hope that it will win safe-conduct through two major areas of controversy where previous measures have been ambushed. The proponents of segregation can vote for it, they believe, because states which fear that federal aid might interfere with segregation do not have to accept the proffered funds. They hope that Catholic support can be won for the measure, too, because of the large numbers of Catholic children in public schools who would benefit and because it docs not appear to step on sectarian toes. A school construction measure runs into less difficulty of that sort, anyway, than would one providing funds also for administration and operation. There policy questions — like the school bus issue — intervene.
On realistic analysis, the Administration appeared to have arrived at a point where it could no longer oppose federal aid for school construction, as it did in the last session of Congress. A construction program is a useful thing to have around as insurance against recession. Having committed itself to an ambitious highway program, the White House could scarcely do less for school children.