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Politics Life Sci. 2008 Mar;27(1):2-21.

Eisenhower's 1955 heart attack: medical treatment, political effects, and the "behind the scenes" leadership style.

Author information

1
Department of Political Science, 319 Meserve Hall, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA. r.gilbert@neu.edu

Abstract

During his first term as President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered several serious illnesses. Particularly important was the massive heart attack he experienced in the fall of 1955. Drawing on primary sources as well as prior scholarship, this article analyzes varying interpretations of Eisenhower's 1955 medical treatment in light of his previous illnesses and their management. It explores the handling of public disclosure by the White House, by Eisenhower himself, and by his medical team. And it reconsiders Republican strategists' efforts to allay public concerns about the President's health. Current understanding is called into question in several respects. Although it sharpened speculation about his fitness and willingness to run in the 1956 presidential campaign, the 1955 heart attack made Eisenhower more likely, rather than less likely, to run. Although often sick, and in several instances critically so, Eisenhower was clearly the dominant player--intentionally "behind the scenes"--both in the management of his illnesses and in the health-perceptual aspects of his drive toward a second term. These findings should lead us to a better reading of Eisenhower as a president and to a better appreciation of health's linkage to legacy in presidential politics.

PMID:
19213302
DOI:
10.2990/27_1_2
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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