THE nature of the Republican campaign is now clear. “Peace and Prosperity” is the slogan. President Eisenhower will campaign — at the beginning, at least—on a lofty, bipartisan plane with an appeal to “all Americans—Republicans, Independents, and sound-thinking Democrats,” as he has already put it. The lesser candidates, from Vice President Nixon (whose renomination is now taken for granted in Washington) on down to the local level, will do the partisan work, especially in the drive to win the Negro vote.
Since last July’s Geneva Summit Conference, Washington has felt certain that a big war is unlikely for the indefinite future — certainly until there is a change in the nuclear stalemate, a change foreseen on the day when the United States or the Soviet Union successfully tests an intercontinental ballistic missile.
But fears of a Middle East conflict involving the United States made this a worrisome spring in Washington. This cloud was lifted, however, in mid-April when the Kremlin announced it was prepared to support through the United Nations a “stable peaceful settlement of the Palestine question on a mutually acceptable basis, taking into consideration the just national interests of the interested parties.”
It is not impossible, of course, that there will be an Arab-lsraeli war. Rut Washington uttered a vast private sigh of relief at the Soviet move, on the generally sound theory that when the big boys say the little boys must not engage in fisticuffs but must stick to name-calling they will do just that. In sum, the Washington view is that Moscow decided that the Middle East situation, so greatly fermented by the Czech-Ejgyptian arms deal, was getting out of hand; that an Arab-Israeli war was in the offing; that Britain was so alarmed at the prospect of losing its Middle East position, above all its essential oil resources, that London was prepared to fight; that the United States was once again approaching the “brink of war” and might very well intervene; that such events could force Soviet intervention to protect its own interests; that the end result could be a world war, which neither major power wanted.
The price of Soviet Russia’s “peace” proposal remains to be seen in its every detail. The core is quite visible, however — acceptance by the West that Russia is now a major Middle East power. This Washington has been reluctant to concede; but conceded it has, in fact if not in word.
Internationally, it seems probable that Moscow will win the plaudits as the peacemaker in the Middle East. But at home, or so Washington politicians think, the Eisenhower Administration will get the voters’ credil for keeping America out of war. Politically, then, the GOP now seems assured of “peace” as a major campaign issue. The Democrats are again forced to strike at the conduct of foreign affairs around the periphery; they have no central issue as the Republicans had in 1952 over the Korean War.
While the economists are far from unanimous, the majority in Washington agree with the spring estimate of the Joint Economic Committee’s staff. This nonpartisan view is that we now have “a booming economy already pressing the limit of immediate resources and fanned by a variety of upward draffs.” Rising industrial prices, increased business inventories, a drifting industrial production index, rising wages — all are danger signs.
The stability of the consumer price index gives a false illusion, since the continuing drop of food prices has offset rising prices of finished goods and services. Much of the increase in the gross national produet during the first quarter of 1956 represented higher prices rather lhan higher out put.
Nonetheless employment is stable, and consumers continue confident and willing to spend their dollars. Confidence is a major component of the American economic system, and it cannot be set down on a bar graph. Hence the economy has gone along for a good many months without the dip which many economists have been forecasting.
There is still time between now and November for either a burst of inflation — and alarm —or of deflation — and alarm. A major but as yet unsettled factor is the revised tax-cut issue. Budget surplus forecasts seem certain to be borne out, perhaps to a greater extent than anticipated earlier in the year. The temptation to do something for the voters is naturally immense. And it is especially so on the part of the Democrats in control of Congress. Nor should anyone believe that the Republicans will be lagging behind if a reasonable case can be made for a modest payment on the national debt and then a tax cut.
The economists both in and out of government tend to oppose a tax cut in the face of what they generally consider an inflationary situation. But economists have little weight in the political scales. If a big budget surplus as of June 30 is a certainty, a tax cut is highly probable. And it is not likely to be held back by the finding of the Symington Committee that the Administration is not spending enough on American air power — a finding taken here as a foregone conclusion. The Administration has tried to offset the investigation by upping military funds about half a billion dollars, but even that substantial figure will not eliminate the likely surplus.
“Do something” for the farmers
Democratic strategy on the farm issue has been frankly and openly political. It has been twopronged: to shift from Secretary Benson to the President himself the farmer’s ire at his declining income: and to shovel out large amounts of money to the farmer as a Democratic move over the resistance of the President. The Democrats, almost without exception, were praying for a veto of their farm bill and for the continuance in office of Mr, Benson. They got both — and more.
The President’s radio-television explanation of his veto upset the Democratic strategy. The result has been to leave in considerable doubt the political results of all the intraparly maneuvering.
The Democrats proposed, through the return to rigid price supports, to pump $1 billion or so from the Treasury to the farmers. The President, while rejecting this on principle, counterproposed to pump out half a billion or so in part through prepayments for participation in the soil bank plan. Democrats who were loudly declaring it was their bill or nothing for this session of Congress were thrown back in disarray. Their first reaction was to say that the President already has much of the authority he needs to “do something” for the farmer. But when House Republicans started work on another farm bill, the Democrats moved quickly in an effort to take the initiative away from them.
The net result, some political observers began to feel, was that the President was having his cake and eating it too. Some farm votes may in the end be lost — even some farm states. But the probability is that a good deal of money will reach the farmers before election day, enough to take at least some of the sting out of the veto. And the President will undoubtedly add to his stature as a national leader who looks upon legislation in terms of its good for the nation, not just one segment. It is difficult to estimate the vote-pulling power of this approach, but the politicians think it does have pulling power among the urban population — which, after all, is the bulk of America.
The President’s veto of the farm bill was his first really difficult domestic political choice in more than three years in office. If one can find a nonpartisan in Washington, and there are some, his verdict can hardly be anything but that Eisenhower did the right thing in the national interest.
The President’s health
The GOP knows it must not overtax the President; hence Chairman Hall has laid out a campaign with no more than half a dozen television speeches to be given by the President in the sixty-day period from the close of the Republican convention at the end of August to election day. Eisenhower has publicly said several times now that he will do no old-fashioned barnstorming, a position based both on his doctors’ orders and on his extreme personal distaste for the Truman give-’em-hell technique, not to mention his distaste for the former President himself.
Washington cynics, however, believe this strict regimen will break down long before election day. They give two reasons: despite the polls, the President’s re-election is not a foregone conclusion, and the election of a Republican Congress is highly doubtful; secondly, the Democrats will make so much of the health issue, even though the presidential nominee himself probably will avoid it, that Eisenhower will have to show himself around the nation. The case of Franklin Roosevelt comes to mind, especially his famous drive through a rainstorm in New York in 1944 to show he was very much alive.
The President has lost weight, purposely, since his heart attack, and the cast of his face exaggerates this in almost every photograph published in the newspapers. In fact, one photo taken during his spring trip to Georgia made him appear so lean and drawn that a major news agency which distributed it received numerous complaints from Republican editors. On television, the President’s appearance is not what his supporters would prefer, despite the normal TV make-up and the skillful direction of actor Robert Montgomery.
In the flesh, the President is ruddy of complexion and seems just as full as ever of zip and zest. His grin is as infectious as before, though his loss of weight is quite noticeable and his face shows the wear of his coronary attack. This is less apparent at a distance, however, than close up.
The White House is quite touchy about the health issue and its concomitant, the Democratic “part-time President" charge. In a single week, the President made three major night speeches, all in Washington. He has taken on a good measure of the ceremonial functions he had earlier said he would have to shed. More of the same can be expected between now and November. What some of his intimates fear most is a bad cold or a touch of the flu from campaigning. A week in bed, they are afraid, would cost heavily in votes.
How the President operates
From all indications, the President has now returned to pretty much the same mode of operating the White House as before his heart attack. National Security Council sessions are the key points of decision for the Administration. It was here that he ratified the intra-Achninistration compromise on foreign aid.
The President usually lets his Cabinet officials light it out rather than bring him two opposing views for a choice. Yet from time to time he makes a telling point. During a discussion of aid for the neutralist nations. Treasury Secretary George Humphrey took his classic position that the United States should do nothing to aid the development of socialist—that is, government-owned — economies in Indonesia.
Others argued that who owned the factories was of less importance than whether the Indonesian government operated on democratic lines and was able to advance its economy and living standard without resort to aid from Soviet Russia or Communist China in any substantial amount.
President Eisenhower, at home the champion of the free enterprise system, remarked that if he were running Indonesia he would do exactly what the Indonesians are doing, simply because they have little capital and can obtain little privately from abroad.
The President probably can be expected to take much the same position when the time comes to decide whether to help such nations build nuclear power reactors. Rut he does not say such things publicly, or has not thus far.
At press conferences, the President has tried to restrain himself. His tone of voice has been more moderate than before his illness. Yet he finds this difficult, especially when a question is as pointed or as unpleasant as he found a query on whether he would send troops to the Middle East without first asking Congress.
His answers are as responsive as ever; on some topics, in which he is well briefed or on which he feels passionately, they are to the point. Often, however, he avoids a direct answer by a dissertation which wanders far from the point. There has not been, alas, enough follow-up questioning on some points; but the President is not to be blamed for that.