Robert Novak

On Tuesday night, Eisenhower over national television had called the cuts a "needless gamble" with national security. But in his weekly press conference on Wednesday, the president rejected going over Knowland's head to 14 liberal Republican senators who supported Eisenhower, asserting he would work only through the GOP's "elected leadership." After the press conference, it was announced that Ike went golfing at the all-male Burning Tree Club with his son John and press secretary James C. Hagerty.

While the government outlays were limited, the top marginal income tax rate in 1957 remained at the Korean War level of 91 percent (compared with today's 35 percent). That helped produce a 1957 budget surplus, one of three yearly surpluses in the Eisenhower years. They were matched by three Eisenhower recessions. Nobody talked then about needed tax rate reduction until John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, and nobody in 1957 anticipated the massive 1958 recession that produced big Democratic congressional majorities for a generation.

Nor did anybody foresee that Lyndon Johnson would in 1957 engineer passage of the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction. In his May 15 press conference, Eisenhower said he would go "no faster and no further" than the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision. That promised doing nothing about voting rights, open occupancy or fair employment.

But Time magazine's cover story that week on Atty. Gen. Herbert Brownell reported him pressing for desegregation in interstate transportation, abolishing segregation in Washington restaurants and, especially, pressing for voting rights. Time depicted Brownell, Eisenhower's campaign manager, running the Justice Department on a non-partisan basis. A U.S. attorney was quoted: "I think the Attorney General should get a Medal of Honor. He got us all feeling a certain pride in what we do."

That was the tone of Washington when I arrived. Today the city is slicker, the nation is richer and minorities are protected. But I personally cannot help feeling nostalgia for the civility and even innocence I encountered 50 years ago.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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