2002-05-22 / Front Page
President’s daughter spends life in the public eye Julie Nixon Eisenhower recalls memories – good and bad – in White House
President’s daughter spends life in the public eye
Julie Nixon Eisenhower
recalls memories – good
and bad – in White House
With a captivating presence, honest candor and some good-natured humor, Julie Nixon Eisenhower addressed a packed audience of guests who came to hear snippets of the author’s life inside the White House.
Eisenhower spoke at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters, Manalapan, on May 5 as part of the Monmouth County Library System’s Dewey Millennium series.
The series featured programs commemorating Melvil Dewey’s 1876 invention which came to be known as the Dewey decimal system of classification, used in most public and school libraries to categorize books.
Eisenhower, the daughter of the late President Richard M. Nixon, spoke to those who sat in folding chairs, those who sat in makeshift seating — on the floor, on the steps of the stage, and to those who had no other choice but to stand.
Guests listened to stories of Nixon’s years growing up in the White House. Politics, however, was not the order of her interesting and informative talk. Rather, it was remembrance, recollection and reflection of the good times she holds dear to her heart, as well as the "not so good times" the famous family endured.
Eisenhower, now an author, editor and public speaker, lectures extensively throughout the United States. Voted four times as one of the 10 most admired women in America by Good Housekeep-ing magazine, the author remains an active volunteer in her community and serves on national nonprofit boards with a special interest in helping at-risk youth. She and her husband, David, the grandson of the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower, are currently at work on a book about the 1968 presidential election. The Eisenhowers live near Philadelphia with their three children.
Eisenhower’s dynamic manner coupled with a touch of wit held her audience’s attention for the entire presentation. She revealed warm memories, such as her husband, David, riding up and down the corridors of the White House at the age of 6 when his grandfather led the country in the 1950s, or when he came to pick her up for a date while she was attending Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
"Hello," David said. "My name is David Eisenhower, and I’m here to see Julie Nixon."
"Yeah," the man in charge of security sarcastically retorted. "And my name is Harry Truman."
There were serious moments in Eisenhower’s talk as well, moments where reality gripped her as well as her audience, as she briefly described how living in the White House affects those who enter its doors for the allotted term of service — or sentence, depending on the day, the hour, the moment and about a billion other circumstances.
Using phrases like living in a "bubble of unreality," Eisenhower, whose father had earlier served as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, said it was quite difficult to emerge from those years with her feet on the ground.
"You have 24-hour-a-day room service, transportation provided for you, messengers for everything," Eisenhower ex-plained. "You virtually stop doing things for yourself. You never have to wait in line for anything."
Eisenhower described a rather memorable moment which shed light on how her mother made a valiant attempt to maintain some sense of who she was before she became the nation’s first lady.
"I came home one day and found my mother washing some personal articles of clothing in the sink," she said, reminding the audience that Patricia Nixon grew up on a farm. "I asked her why she was doing this herself when she had a White House staff of more than 100 people to do these things for her."
Patricia Nixon’s reply was to profoundly affect her daughter.
"My mother told me, ‘When you become too dependent on others and let them do everything for you, you become ugly,’ " she said.
Living in a fish bowl is not easy was the bottom line of Eisenhower’s message to the audience of hundreds. By using comments and snippets of day-to-day life in the White House, she crafted a tapestry in a frame that may well have read, "Life in the White House may be a dream, but it isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be."
Her comments revealed that life as glamorous and as rich and liberal as it may be on the one hand is filled with restrictions, boundaries and more than a touch of unreality on the other. She recalled how President Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, was quoted as saying that her husband "belonged to the world and not to me anymore."
Eisenhower recalled how Mamie said that although her husband was a simple man, the presidency "had changed him tremendously."
President Eisenhower was quoted as saying that "anyone who goes into politics becomes public property," according to the author.
She recounted comments from other presidents which showed that White House life is not always just what Americans see. She said President John Quincy Adams was quoted as saying it was the "worst four years of his life," while President Harry S. Truman categorized his term of office as "the Great White Prison."
"There is tremendous focus on every word the president speaks, as well as the family who lives with him. Suddenly it doesn’t take long to adjust to that fame," she added.
Eisenhower added humor to her "reality talk" by noting that people are sometimes reluctant to tell the truth to a member of the presidential family. She explained with good humor that she had sponsored a needlework project through Good Housekeeping magazine to raise funds to redecorate the White House. She said the photograph of her which appeared on the historic needlework kits was not a good photo.
"Even the magazine didn’t have the nerve to tell me," she laughed.
A member of the White House staff eventually called the magazine. His tactful explanation? "Uh, we need to retake the picture. Lincoln (who was also pictured on the project) doesn’t look so good."
The audience appreciated the humor and honest candor of the daughter of a president and the granddaughter-in-law of another commander-in-chief. Eisenhower commented that she and the man who was to become her husband grew up in the White House and saw things through the innocent eyes of the children of the 1950s.
Her attention turned to a more serious nature as she spoke of what makes leaders and her feelings about women in politics.
"Where do leaders come from? I have some unique insight into this. What drives people to want to lead a country? With all the negative aspects of politics and the obvious loss of a personal life, what makes people do it? You don’t run for public office unless you have a specific vision. You’re usually driven by ideas and a vision. All leaders share something in common — they feel that they are the only ones who can do the job," she said, citing her father’s vision of the extrication of American troops from Vietnam.
Sharing her views on women in politics, Eisenhower said although women have moved into leadership roles, they still lag behind men in the political world.
"Unlike male candidates, women candidates always have to appear strong. If they have children, they must be good mothers. They have to apply all those things to their campaign," she said.
Eisenhower said that women are under much more public and private scrutiny than men and that women have "much more on their plates than men do."
"There are fewer women in the political arena because of their conflict with their families. Men are more willing to make the sacrifice of their personal lives than women are," she added.
Women remain "nurturers," she said, noting that women are still hesitant to enter modern politics because of the fact that their children come first.
"Women are haunted by the decision to choose their country over their husband and their children," she said.
Statistics Eisenhower presented lent credence to her theory. She said there is only one in seven women in state legislatures; 15 women in the U.S. Senate out of 100 members; and 14 percent (61 members) of the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives are women. She said the world of politics "is not a 9-to-5 job. It’s all consuming."
Eisenhower said people must be extremely strong to endure life under such public scrutiny.
"It’s very difficult to live your entire life in front of the public eye," Eisenhower said, noting the especially difficult role one is commanded to play when facing personal tragedy as well.
"As I watched them all handle crisis, I learned a great deal about dealing with adversity," she said.
She also commented on the strength of people in high office, remarking in particular on the courage she said her father possessed.
"My father always felt he let down the American people, and he had to live with that burden for his entire life," Eisenhower said, adding that her father said, "It is a burden I will carry until the day I die."
She said her father never gave up trying though, traveling all over the world on behalf of the United States. She said he refused to let one of the most humiliating defeats in American history keep him from doing what he could for his country.
Eisenhower remembered the moments she shared with her father in April 1994 after he had suffered a stroke.
"He remained alert, and I could see him smile with his eyes," she said. "He was being taken for another test, but before he left, he squeezed my hand one last time, giving me a thumbs-up sign."
Those were the last moments the author shared with her father. Two hours later he slipped into a coma.
"Each of us can vanquish defeat," she explained. "Whether it be by raising funds for a school board function or any other cause you believe in, or [by] supporting a church, we can make our democracy strong as long as each of us does something."
Her presentation was greeted by a standing ovation by all who came to hear her speak. Library officials estimated the turnout at about 800 people for Eisen-hower’s speech.
Eisenhower closed her presentation by saying, "The leaders of the world are those who take risks every day to make their own corner of the world a better place to live."