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July 8, 2008

Ike Was the Man!

Roy Meachum

No one gets bored faster with the nitty-gritty of politics. My frequently criticized "impatience" comes into play. Once a candidate captures my approval, the game is over. There was one exception I recall.


As a young man with intellectual pretensions, I fell under Adlai Stevenson's spell; he was the ultimate "cool" – at a time the word referred strictly to temperature. His mannerisms I found delightful. I wore proudly his hole-in-the-shoe pin on my lapel.


I can recall absolutely nothing that President Dwight David Eisenhower had done amiss; I liked the man. We had crossed paths in the Pentagon when I was an Army staff sergeant; I never knew a human shoulder could hold the number of stars pinned to his epaulets. He had called me "son" and I liked that.


But Mr. Stevenson was my political darling; everything I learned about his thinking either amused or impressed. He could turn the White House into a shrine to good taste as well as noble ideals; I was convinced. Only I never slicked his way into the Oval Office.


Four years before I was in the Army overseas and in those days nobody I knew had ever heard of an absentee ballot; maybe somebody, but no one who passed the word along to me. In its "infinite" wisdom the military decided the war in Korea would go better if I was in Germany: Bremerhaven, precisely. There was no campaign to get me to vote. I didn't.


In any event, I was discharged in time to carry Washington Post chief cameraman Arthur Ellis's Speed Graphic equipment January 20, 1953, the date of Ike's first inauguration. After a severe case of Wanderlust that included The Washington Post radio and television stations, I went back to 1515 L street N.W. I imagined owner Eugene "Butch" Meyer was happy to see me return. Ike was still in the White House.


Of course, as you must know, Governor Stevenson had gathered something like 89 electoral votes to the general's 452 in 1952. Part of his charm for me was his plucky nature; he was out, not down. Here he was again. My first voting for president found me decidedly on the underdog's side.


My polling place was in College Park; we had bought a home on Harvard Road, after my graduation from Maryland. As I approached the building I received smiles of approval from the Democratic poll-watchers and their hangers-on.


Only after the curtain was pulled and I was truly alone for the first time that election year, did I seriously argue with myself about the candidates. You may not recall, even if you were born at the time, Hungary was in all-out rebellion against the Russian occupation army. Stones against huge tanks. The gallant Magyars had my fervent sympathy and the White House's strong support.


For the first and only time in Israel's history, a sitting American president told the new state it had gone too far, back off! Roping in the Brits and the French, Tel Aviv decided to take the Suez Canal from Gamal Abdul Nasser. There were no excuses and no provocations as President Eisenhower said when he ordered the three U.S. allies to back off.


On thinking, my whim and fancy bounced through the window and into the nearest College Park street. There was very serious business afoot that could affect my sons: Susan Lee Meachum came later.


So this life-long Democrat – not for the last time – voted for a Republican. Ike was the man!


Before leaving the booth, I at least had the decency to remove the Stevenson pin from my lapel.


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