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Remembering a time when children toasted a unifying president with milk

The TV screen would show President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s smiling face and a translucent image of an American flag would be superimposed, through which we could see Ike.

A reminiscence of happier days:

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Before the Republican Party became a Donald Trump cult, standing for little more than devotion to its [fill in adjective of your choice] leader, it had generally been, since at least the New Deal, a sane, moderately conservative party.

One of the key symbols of that older, happier version was President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Eisenhower, known by his nickname “Ike” and for his campaign buttons that modestly said “I like Ike,” was a World War II hero and unifying figure and was the first Republican president in 20 years when he was elected in 1952. It was a very solid win, which his distinguished opponent, liberal Democrat Adlai Stevenson, did not contest. And Ike held office for two terms, from the time I was 1 year old until I turned 9.

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My parents were FDR-loving Democrats, who voted for Stevenson. But they nonetheless liked Ike, as did everyone we knew. It’s hard to imagine, from where we are today, how much less partisan the atmosphere was during Ike’s heyday. I don’t guess we’ll ever return to that happy, unifying culture, but we can hope.

I write this corny nostalgia piece (and I promise I’ll be done soon) because for some reason I was thinking about a local show for kids in the Boston area (where I was raised) starring “Big Brother Bob Emery” (no Orwellian “1984” reference intended, kid-show host Bob Emery just wanted to be every kid’s big brother).

A daily feature of the program was a moment mid-show where kids were asked to stand up and raise a glass of milk. The screen would show Eisenhower’s smiling avuncular face, and a translucent image of an American flag would be superimposed  — through which we could see Ike, and hear Big Brother Bob in his studio announce: “A toast to the president of the United States.”

And we would drink our milk to the background music, if I recall correctly, of “Hail to the Chief.”

This corny childhood memory of mine is weird (forgive me) and to modern sensibilities it may seem inappropriate on various grounds. But to me it is remindful of a time when a president could be a unifying figure whom everyone wished well.

My mom, of blessed memory, an FDR-worshiping child of the New Deal and first-generation American, would look on without irony or discomfort, supplying me with my glass of milk so I could toast the president as a unifying symbol of the nation, even though she and my dad voted for Ike’s opponent, Adlai Stevenson, twice and without hesitation.