Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks and Discussion at the National Press Club

January 14, 1959

Mr. President, Mr. President-elect, and gentlemen:

It is a very distinct honor, not to say a valued privilege, to be able to participate in this way in your Golden Jubilee. I'm sorry that I couldn't have done it earlier, but at least I've gotten under the wire.

I understand that in the type of gathering that we have today, the speaker normally delivers a talk and is then questioned. Well, for those of you who have not been reading the newspapers, let me tell you that only last Friday I delivered a speech of 45 minutes and it would seem quite unnecessary to go through that, the topics I then suggested for consideration, because so far as I remember, I covered a great deal of the waterfront. And so, with no other word of apology except to disclaim the title that your president gave me of an authority, I assure you I am a worker in the vineyard and a student.

So with that word of apology, I suggest we go to the questions for the simple reason that those few who didn't read the papers may not be so aware of the wisdom of my words last Friday as they should be. [Laughter]

Mr. Homer: Thank you, Mr. President. As you know, sir, the question-and-answer period at our club differs somewhat from your news conference at the White House. In the standard news conference, correspondents rise for individual recognition. When recognized, they identify themselves and they put the questions. At the Press Club, the procedure is for the members of the audience to submit questions in writing which are sent up to the presiding officer and it is he who selects the questions asked and it is he who reads them. And I want to emphasize, Mr. President, that I do not write them. I do just read them. [Laughter]

And now, sir, for the first one: there were two themes in your State of the Union Message, one of expanding the cost of defense and of maintaining adequate sums for a growing population; the other on the need for fiscal responsibility. Can we do both of these things and, if so, how can they be done?

THE PRESIDENT. The real answer, in a word, is found in this truth, I think: that we can keep prices from rising unconscionably, and by doing so we can do exactly what the question propounds. Now I do want to say this: no one believes, of course, if he is a special advocate or a member of a particular lobby or pressure group that is seeking Federal funds, no one believes that the amounts that he has been allotted are quite sufficient. This truth has always been known to all of us.

It does take very earnest study, judgment, and decision to bring about this balance between outgo and income and still make adequate provision for security, make certain that we do not neglect those programs in which the Federal Government should participate for the welfare of our people, and still keep fiscal integrity and pay our way as we go. say I believe if we can substantially keep under control the problem risings costs, this not only can be done but will very soon account for substantial surpluses which will mean tax reform and eventually certainly some tax reduction.

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, what is your answer to critics who say the national economy cannot expand at a rate of 5 percent a year unless the Federal Government makes a bigger investment annually in public facilities of all kinds?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't want to be a critic myself here, but do not believe that that question is really the one we ought to be asking, because it is not the Federal Government that makes prosperity in this country. After all, we are talking within the reasonable future of a GNP of 500 billion, and now we are talking about spending for all purposes 77 billion, or a figure in that level. It is quite clear that the decisions of 175 million people and the way they make those decisions based upon their own needs is far more important than what the Federal Government does.

The Federal Government needs to lead, to point the way, to do the things, as Lincoln said, that people cannot do for themselves, such as providing for the national security. That kind of problem, they have to take initial and sole responsibility for.

But when it comes to the advancing and expanding our economy, that is by and large the business of America. The Federal Government can help, but our expenditures, our Federal money, will never be spent so intelligently and in so useful a fashion for the economy as will the expenditures that would be made by the private citizen, the taxpayer, if he hadn't had so much of it funneled off into the Federal Government.

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, is it correct to assume that if Congress maintains a balanced budget this year, that next year you will propose a reduction in individual income taxes?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the first thing I believe we have to do is to reform our tax structure in a number of ways; I think some of you remember I mentioned this last Friday--the need for tax reform. The Secretary of the Treasury--by the way, a man who I think is in this field very brilliant and able--is already studying the kinds of reform we should have. I would not be prepared to say that we would be recommending next year, as the first move in this field, reduction of personal income tax. I do say we must reform our tax structure so that incentives are enhanced and not damaged.

And if the Congress does keep this budget balanced, I say that increases our prospect for that kind of reform, as I say, eventually a lowering of taxes all along the line.

Mr. Horner: Sir, in your State of the Union Message you said. "We must have teachers of competence. To obtain and hold them we need standards."

What do you have in mind, sir, by this--national minimum standards of pay, national standards for high school graduates, or what?

THE PRESIDENT. It is broader than just merely the pay of teachers. I am right now busily engaged in the business of getting together the kind of committee that I think will give us the widest representation from the whole spectrum of the American population, every walk of life, every party, every kind of philosophy that we can. If we can put together this kind of committee--and I preferably would like to see it financed privately so that there could be no dictatorial methods used--then we could begin to set up goals that would finally become standards.

Now let me give you just one or two examples. I happen to know of one district near Chicago where a very dedicated group of citizens went to work to make certain that their teachers were properly paid. The minimum salary of a qualified high school teacher in that school became $10,000. And pretty soon it was picked up by the whole district and the quality of teaching, the morale of the teacher and of the student and everybody else, went up high, very high.

Now, we have teachers for a purpose. They are one of the most and probably, in many ways, the most important group that we know in this whole country. But they are for a purpose, not an end in themselves. They are to take our children, to give them the proper kinds of standards, the moral, intellectual, and even physical standards we believe they should attain. So when we want to set a standard for this business of education, we have got to think of the problem, our needs, whether we should have completely classical or whether we should center on science alone. We must get a standard that brings us a well-rounded student at what you might call the end product, by the time he gets through high school.

This means facilities, buildings, adequate recreational and athletic types of material, fine teachers, and I could add dedicated parents that cooperate with the teachers. This is the kind of thing I am talking about. I believe it can be done, and I believe it will inspire us all to a better performance.

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, turning now to civil rights, the question is, in 1957 Congress passed, at your suggestion, a civil rights bill dealing largely with voting: do you think this Congress should pass civil rights legislation dealing specifically with problems arising from school segregation?

THE PRESIDENT. I think when we get into the field of law, here we must be very careful. I do believe in the law concerning voting, and I think we should have whatever correctives are necessary in the law in order to make certain that a qualified citizen's privilege of voting is not taken away from him for such inconsequential things as race, or creed, or origin. That to my mind is the first thing to do.

Now, when we get the Federal Government working by law in things that are known to be primarily State, we run into difficulties. One of them is the closing of schools. To my mind this is tragic. I tried to say the other day that I believe the image of America is not helped abroad when we have so many thousands of our children deprived of getting an education, by no fault of their own, and by the closing of the schools.

So I would say, first, I would like to see this problem of voting solved with whatever laws may be necessary. I would like to see extended the life of the Civil Rights Commission. I would like to see power more clear-cut to make certain that they can examine into the difficulties about voting, the bars to it, and to get some kind of procedures that will make this privilege stand so that it will not be violated. And if this is done, it is my belief that now voters themselves--local voters, State voters, and national voters--will have a greater and finer opportunity to proceed with, you might say, the proper observance of their other rights.

But I do say that until all of us take again as a standard, a standard of living by the concepts of the Constitution, and try by our teaching, our example, our beliefs, expressed convictions--we are not going to get too far just by laws that operate specifically upon a State-supported activity because, as I say, if the State ceases that activity, then what do we do? That, to my mind, is a problem that takes time, dedication, but I do say this: it must be solved.

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, as you know, we have many questions here. I would like to shift, if you please, sir, to a topic, a favorite of all of us--politics. You said at a recent press conference that your political philosophy has not changed. Nevertheless, many people say you have drifted away from Modern Republicanism toward traditional Republican conservatism. Would you explain this, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. I am always amused, sometimes frustrated, in my attempt to define terms that I have heard, or have been coined. I happened once, I believe in '56, the fall of '56, to have used the term "Modern Republicanism." Because there was some question about that, I tried to define it, and I said as far as I am concerned, this is the application of Republican principles to modern problems and not to the problem of keeping the Union together, which was President Lincoln's great preoccupation.

We are talking about the problems that we encounter today. I do not see any difference so far as I am concerned between Modern Republicanism or another term that I liked, Theodore Roosevelt's, which was "Progressive Republicanism." I believe we should cling very, very firmly to the principles, to the vision, really, that our founders wrote into their great documents, and we should take those principles and apply them with problems of humans today.

At one time our population was 95 percent agricultural. Well, today I think it is something on the order of 10, or a little more or less. Of course problems are different, and therefore, let's meet the modern problems. I would appeal to all Republicans and such few Democrats that are here--[laughter]--to take very seriously this business of applying the real concepts of the Founding Fathers, applying them to problems today, and do it according to your own way and your thinking, because that is America. That is what keeps America strong. But I do not like terms that I don't understand myself. [Laughter]

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, if you will take just one more on politics, I will let you go at the press. You have indicated, sir, you will follow a strictly hands-off policy in selecting the Republican presidential nominee next year. Does that not run the risk of selection of a man with whose Republican political philosophy you do not agree?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm quite sure, Mr. President, that everybody would know that if a nominee were possibly made whose basic philosophy I could not go along with--whose general attitude toward the relationship of Government to the private citizen and to the State and to the community; who did not go along with my basic idea that only in a coalition of strong governments or at least an association through cooperation with strong governments can we make certain that freedom is not lost in the world; if any man could not go along with that kind of basic thinking, well, I would say this: I couldn't possibly support him, if my influence had anything to do with the matter. Therefore, I could--I won't, but I could--write out for you a list of half a dozen, or 10, or maybe a dozen fine, virile men in the Republican Party that I would gladly support. But I do say this: those are men, in my mind, who really want to see America go ahead, its economy sound, and to be very, very careful that our security is maintained, not only by our own building of armaments, with support, the cooperation of other governments that want to live in independence and in liberty. [Applause]

Mr. Homer: And now, sir, a question or so on the press. Which, sir, do you prefer, holding press conferences only when you have something specific to announce, or holding these conferences on a regularly scheduled basis, whether or not you have anything to volunteer?

THE PRESIDENT. I have had one sort of a predilection throughout my life. I never like to conform too much. And just to say that one particular day each week I am going to be in the same exact spot, the same exact time, sort of puts me down.

Now I have no objection, as long as we have got the time and something else isn't on the mind, I have no objection to doing it periodically. And I will say this: I cannot recall when there was any time that I felt that I had anything in my mind that I should tell the press at that particular moment, or in that particular way. After all, you can always issue statements or sometimes these newsreel cameras want to get hold of you and get a picture of you while you're saying these things. But I do like, and this contrary to some of the things I have seen in the paper, I do like the opportunity of meeting these people--not always, I say, periodically, and not on any stated time. I like to meet them and listen to their questions.

I also read that I sometimes get angry. Well, that is their idea. [Laughter] I don't believe I do.

I say they are a good institution. I would hate to see them relegated to a secondary place, but they are the President's press conferences, and so I think you ought to indulge him a little bit in the way he thinks they ought to be done, when they should be done.

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, a question on missiles. Sir, there seems to be a difference of opinion between Vice President Nixon and Senator Symington as to whether we are behind the Russians in missile development. Can you settle the argument?

THE PRESIDENT. First of all, as all of you here who go to my press conferences know, I never comment on the statements of any particular individual, either in a critical and only rarely in any other fashion. I will try to answer the question in my own way.

First, I would say this: it is absolutely fatuous and futile to try to balance, item by item, the progress of two great nations in their technology of defense. We do know that in certain types of missile development the Soviets have performed brilliantly indeed. But we have a defense, I must point out, that became it is defense must concentrate not only on one possible type of combat but every conceivable kind. We have to have balanced forces and not merely one that aims, let us say, at the destruction of cities or bases anywhere in the world.

Now in the missile field itself, I should think that if we did not believe that the other people were somewhat ahead in certain phases of the missile development, we would indeed be a little stupid, because they have been working at it for many years, and our urgent work in the long-range missile has started only something like 4 years ago.

Now in that time, I want to say with all the depth of understanding I believe I have, our scientists have made remarkable progress. There has been a speed of development that is exemplified here in these late months by many successful flights of the Atlas, by the fact that training units for those weapons are now being produced, their bases are being built, that certain of our intermediate, that is, the fairly long-range weapons, are some deployed. This kind of thing means that we are going very, very fast.

Also, to show that this is not just one item that we should consider, take airplanes. We have one plane now in the fighter squadrons flying at more than twice the speed of sound. There are a few of our bombers that are doing the same thing, and at great altitudes and at great efficiency.

So that to disturb ourselves too much that we have not yet caught up with another great power and people with great technical skill in a particular item, seems to me to show a lack of a sense of balance. And that is what we are concerned with, because we don't know anything about time, place, or character of any aggression that could occur. We have to be prepared, and we have got to be prepared to respond instantly. I think we are. We have made very remarkable progress. [Applause]

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, before we go overseas, we have a question here we would like for you to settle. As an old football star for Army, have you any inside information on why Earl Blaik is quitting as coach of West Point? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Again I must correct our President for the description he gives of me. I believe the brightest thing ever said about me in the papers was I had great promise. [Laughter] I was broken up so soon that whether that promise would have been fulfilled, I do not know.

But I would say this, and I would like to say it, as a matter of fact I am delighted at this chance to say it publicly: I have never known a man in the athletic world who has been a greater inspiration for the men he is teaching, for his athletes under his control, for a whole corps of cadets and, indeed, for everybody that has known him, than has been Earl Blaik. He has been indeed a very great man, and I think he has done a very remarkable job, a dedicated one, and I am quite sure that if he had been thinking only of Earl Blaik he would have been long since gone.

I don't mind telling you that I have written him a letter today trying to express my feeling of admiration and gratitude for a man who for these long--I think it is now 25--years has been at Dartmouth and at West Point doing a remarkable job for all of us. [Applause]

Mr. Horner: And now, sir, if you please, a few questions on foreign matters, foreign affairs.

Mr. President, both the Russians and we seem to favor negotiations on the future of Germany, but differ fundamentally on solutions to the problem. Do you have any new suggestions to make to Mr. Mikoyan which might break this dilemma?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, going backwards at that question, I should say that any effort to lay out something that was new that would be called a definite proposal would be quite a great mistake. I think that the most that would be expected of such an informal visit as Mr. Mikoyan is making would be that we would try to get behind each other's facial expressions and to see what we are really thinking. Is there an honest, peaceful motive .behind these things? Are both of us really so sick of the burdens that we have to carry in the armament field that we want to find with some intelligence and some common approach a way out of this dilemma?

That is, I think, the most we could achieve from an informal visit such as this, if anything, because if you try to make a proposal, you get into what you might call a conference in which something is dotted and signed, and then it becomes really quite a job.

Now as to the different proposals of the Soviets and ourselves respecting Germany and Europe, we think it is just an exercise in futility to try to demilitarize, neutralize, and completely disarm a people as strong, as important, and virile as is the German people.

On the other hand, that being the general tenor of the Russian proposals, we oppose to that concept this one: that we would say we don't believe in the free arming of Germany in the sense that Hitler tried to rearm it. We would like to see Germany so intertwine itself with other European nations in its economy and its thinking and its defense exercises, that it doesn't have to do this. It is part of a community.

Now this has been started, insofar as the West is concerned, in Euratom, the Coal-Steel Community, and the Free Market, that kind of thing, and we think it is a very great development for the benefit and strength of Western Europe; the rest of Europe at this point, of course, cannot get in.

But it is also a development that almost proves they cannot be aggressive. They couldn't move except with the consent of a whole bevy of nations. How can you make a surprise aggressive move in such a way? It must be, as far as military is concerned, a defensive sort of organization.

But if we handled the thing separately--I mean separately from France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and so on--we must remember this: this people cannot live in isolation, and the great movements toward integration in Europe that have now taken place, I think are proof that the West Germans at least, and I would personally believe all the German people, want to live in peace. We should be quite ready to make any assurances, make any material moves that would assure Russia that there is no danger from this people; and they should not, in our opinion, insist upon really making them as sort of a vacuum in both the security world, the economic, and every other, the political world. They shouldn't do it because it just won't work, in my opinion. [Applause]

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, why do you think Mr. Mikoyan is here?

THE PRESIDENT. Just before the luncheon there was a group of us sitting out here in the lobby and we were trying to work--as a matter of fact, I was trying to get it out from them what he wants. [Laughter]

I do recall this: sometime back--oh, I don't know, 10, 12, 18 months ago--I suggested that one of the things we ought to promote is more visits by our people. Now, some of this has been going on, and I even went so far as to suggest people that were deemed in Russia very important, and by that I meant even in the political world. It is hard for me to interpret the meaning of one meeting, but I would welcome more of them because I believe thoroughly that in the long run peaceful negotiation is going to grow out of one thing that I just mention with respect to a problem in our own country: better understanding of each other. That is going to be brought about, not by glaring across an iron curtain at each other, but getting together, our news, our ideas. I could make quite a speech on this one because it is something I have been entangled in for a long time. But at Geneva we had, as I recall, 17 programs we wanted to put over in October with the foreign ministers meeting, and one of the greatest was to increase our contacts, ideas, literature, books, movies, and above all, people.

So, I would say this: if this means that they are making an experiment in sending some of their higher people over here, I'm all for it. And I would again repeat a very prayerful hope that I expressed some time back: regardless of our own political and social views about a government, or about individuals, America should not forget the requirements of courtesy. [Applause]

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, do you consider Red China a potentially greater threat to the free world than Russia?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't believe in the measurable time, that on this you could make a really worthwhile conclusion or prediction. There is no question that the leaders of Red China are determined, by methods with which we are all familiar, to become an industrial power, which means that behind it, so far as we can see, they want to be a big military power, and they are going at that just as hard as they can.

Now, here is a people of 600 million, and I would think that if they continue in that line, with no change in objective, doctrine, or method, then we must indeed be watchful not only for ourselves but for other people that are friendly and who live closer to China.

But, of course, we would hope that as the instinctive urge of men for freedom, for the right to walk upright in the world, that that begins to create a ferment not only in the more western section of the Eurasian mass, but over in China as well; that, in my humble opinion, is something that must occur during these years, and I am sure we will have to use more mechanical methods, more material means of assuring our own security.

Until that happens, we have indeed got a bleak problem that must be solved.

Mr. Horner: Mr. President, I'm going to ask you if you will not reminisce a bit for us.

Some war historians would say one of your great contributions during World War II was your ability to bring men of divergent views together. Would you please, sir, recall for us some of your associations with Mr. Churchill and General Montgomery, General de Gaulle, and the other allied leaders?

THE PRESIDENT. First of all, it is a very dangerous question to ask of an old soldier, because you ask him to reminisce, and you really ask for something. [Laughter]

I think Mr. Churchill is one of those men that I have known that clearly deserves the title of great. I think this is the title that can be applied accurately to only a few men, because no matter how much we respect the capabilities of any individual, we never can use that title or that adjective, as I see it, until the man has been proven in a position of great responsibility.

He can be great in certain qualities; but great in the carrying of responsibility, like Mr. Churchill, is a very unusual qualification and one that entitles him, I think, overall to that designation. And this in spite of the fact that I probably had more differences of opinion, more quite warm arguments with Mr. Churchill than I suppose did any other person, certainly in the allied forces, because I happened to be of a nationality that he could not shut up if he wanted to.

Now, what I want to say is this: right down to the very moment of decision, this man could support his own conclusion, his own beliefs, more eloquently, more effectively than almost anyone I have ever known. You had to hang on tight to your basic conviction because the first thing you knew, he would shove you out of it, because either with pathos or humor or just sheer eloquence he was a very, very powerful debater. But when the decision was reached, he was absolutely loyal. Some of them he didn't like at all.

He was really not only to my mind a great man; he is certainly one of my greatest friends that is not of my nationality. There are, of course, other men. We couldn't go through the list.

I have often made public my admiration for General Bradley, and, of course, my almost veneration, in many ways, of General Marshall and others who served in the European and African theaters. Many of these people in the British services were indeed splendid people. One of them I think most of you never heard of, or not often. He was Air Chief Marshal Portal, now Lord Portal, one of the finest leaders that I have known, a very great mind.

Each of these men, like each of us, had his own strengths, and here and there I should think his weaknesses. I believe it is not profitable to try to show where you believe you were better than he was, or where you thought you could have done the job better if you had had someone rise. We did win the war. [Laughter and applause]

And I am going to reminisce only in one little item showing the difference between foresight and hindsight. All of us who supported the concept of the Overlord operation had a very great case to prove, and often we had to prove it against our British friends. They had from their experience in World War I visions of Vimy Ridge, of Passchendaele, of Ypres, of those places where literally hundreds of thousands of British and Canadian men lost their lives, and often with not a single thing to show except maybe a few yards of territory. They had that kind of vision and they could not stand the idea of starting another operation like that by invading northern France.

The Americans believed somewhat different. We believed that didn't have to be true, particularly as we were building up a bomber force that was going for us to soften defenses and make very difficult the maneuvers of the opponent.

Now so far as the predictions were concerned, along these many months before even I went to Overlord and from there on down to late May, there were many predictions that we would probably have another Anzio or we would be penned in the beach, we would never get out, and I heard this expression: the tides would flow red with the blood of American and British youths and the beaches would be choked with their bodies.

Now you had to have a degree of confidence, maybe here and there, brashness. But I will say, all of the people in my staff, British and Americans, began to believe this: we began to believe we could win in a reasonable time.

The lowest prediction I ever heard from any political figure on either side of the water was 2 years after we landed. Indeed I heard one of the most prominent figures of the war say that if we were able to acquire, capture, Paris by Christmas 1944, the operation that we had then started would be known in history as the greatest of military operations of all time up to that moment.

We insisted we were going to be on the borders of Germany at Christmas, and if they had any sense they would surrender. Well, they didn't and I lost £5. But that is what we believed, all of us.

Now after that war was ended 11 months from the day we landed--as I say, the most optimistic prediction was 2 years--from that moment now there became many, many critics who showed how much more quickly it could have been won, and possibly it could have been. The only answer I can give you is we won. [Applause]

Mr. Horner: Again, Mr. President, we thank you. You have made a most significant contribution to the Golden Anniversary Celebration of the National Press Club, and in the doing have made considerable news, and we are grateful to you, sir.

Mr. President, I have just one short question remaining but before I ask that I would like to make an announcement. First, I would like to ask the members of the audience to remain in their places until the President and his party depart.

And now, sir, I would like to say the Board of Governors having agreed that you are well qualified as a source of news, has elected you to membership in the National Press Club. [Applause]

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Mr. Horner: It is my honor and privilege, sir, to present this card to you, a card of membership in our club. And now for the final question-which you may answer in any way you like, sir, of course.

In 1948, as your retirement as Army Chief of Staff was nearing, you told the club your prescription for ideal retirement: "Put a chair on the porch, sit in it for 6 months, and then begin to rock slowly." [Laughter]

A few things have happened in the last 11 years. Is that still your idea of the best retirement? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I would like, gentlemen, to retire this long: until I really wanted to go to work some day. Not that I think I don't like to work now, but I have never had that opportunity in my life just to stay out of a job long enough even from the time I was a baby to say I really now want to get back. Because from the day I was almost a first-grader, I was helping earn my own living and I have always had something to do.

Now I don't know how long this type of retirement would last, but at least I want to sit in that chair until I really want to get out of it.

And now I want to say one thing about this card, for which I am very grateful. I understand, possibly erroneously but I hope it is true, that members of the press normally deal gently with their other members--[laughter and applause]--so I hope that possession of this card gives me a certain immunity that, up to this moment, has not been mine. Thank you. [Laughter and applause]

Note: The President spoke at 1:00 p.m. His opening words "Mr. President, Mr. President-elect" referred to John V. Horner of the Washington Evening Star, and William H. Lawrence of the New York Times.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks and Discussion at the National Press Club Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/235364

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