Real, or Memorex?

Did Ike really call the contemporary brand of Republicanism “stupid”?

There’s a wonderful Eisenhower quote making the rounds. I’ve seen it in various forms, and some sources attribute it to a letter to Eisenhower’s brother Edgar (sometimes dated May 2, 1956). Eisenhower is said to have said:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are H.L. Hunt, a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

So far, Googling hasn’t turned up a primary source. Can anyone verify this, or alternatively identify it as a hoax?

Update I would have bet on “hoax,” but I would have lost. Resisting a colleague’s Luddite call to actually go to the library and look it up in the Eisenhower papers, I waited lazily and was rewarded with no fewer than six emails pointing me to the source. The date given turns out to be incorrect, but there is a letter from DDE to his brother Edgar dated November 8, 1954 that starts as follows (emphasis added):

Dear Ed:

I think that such answer as I can give to your letter of November first will be arranged in reverse order–at least I shall comment first on your final paragraph.

You keep harping on the Constitution; I should like to point out that the meaning of the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is. Consequently no powers are exercised by the Federal government except where such exercise is approved by the Supreme Court (lawyers) of the land.

I admit that the Supreme Court has in the past made certain decisions in this general field that have been astonishing to me. A recent case in point was the decision in the Phillips case. Others, and older ones, involved “interstate commerce.” But until some future Supreme Court decision denies the right and responsibility of the Federal government to do certain things, you cannot possibly remove them from the political activities of the Federal government.

Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this–in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

All I can add is: Too bad their numbers are no longer negligible. Nothing else has changed.

Many thanks to those who did my work for me.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com