MSSU professor looks at lessons Eisenhower offers for our times with new book

Apr. 24—More info Missouri Southern history professor Steven Wagner said he'll hold a book signing for his new book, "Eisenhower for Our Time," at 3 p.m., Wednesday, May 1, at the Phelps Theater in the Billingsly Student Center on the MSSU campus. He'll hold a second signing from 6-8 p.m. on Saturday, May 4 at the Boots Court Visitor's Center in Carthage. People can purchase copies of the book online at: or they can buy copies of the new book and Wagner's 2006 book called "Eisenhower Republicanism: Pursuing the Middle Way," at: rdr&isDramIntegrated =true&shoppingPortal Enabled=true. Wagner said the Amazon site also has copies of a third book on Eisenhower available, but he only wrote one chapter of that book.

A Missouri Southern State University professor has completed his second book about former President Dwight Eisenhower, exploring lessons from his administration that can be applied to current politics. "Eisenhower For Our Time" was released this week.

Steven Wagner, professor of history, said the book took more than four years to come together, but he believes a deep dive into the politics of the 1950s — when the two major American political parties hadn't yet coalesced into their conservative and liberal camps — offers perspective for life in America today.

"The real premise, the thread that holds the chapters of the book together, I think most people are aware of Eisenhower's farewell address and most people think of the line where he talks about the military-industrial complex," Wagner said. "I became really fascinated with this other part of the farewell address, the part that says, 'Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.' So I picked out six or eight times in his presidency when I thought he was guided by this idea of balance, finding sort of a middle road between the extremes. I think that's the big lesson from Eisenhower for our times. We really have lost the middle, our politics have become so polarized, less overlap in the middle than I think we've ever seen in our two-party system."

Wagner also wrote "Eisenhower Republicanism: Pursuing the Middle Way," which was released in 2006.


Born in Texas in 1890, Eisenhower grew up in Abilene, Kansas, where his presidential library, museum and boyhood home are located today.

In World War II, Eisenhower commanded the Allied armies of Britain, the U.S., Canada and others in the war against Germany. He had led Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, in 1942; Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily and mainland Italy in 1943, and Operation Overlord, the Normandy invasion, in 1944. He eventually commanded the combined Allied armies that drove through Western Europe and into Germany.

He returned to a hero's welcome and ticker-tape parade in New York City. Both Democrats and Republicans courted him to run for president in 1948. He declined to run at that time, but ran as a Republican in 1952 and won overwhelmingly against the Democrat, Adlai Stephenson III, in both the 1952 and 1956 elections.

His public popularity stayed high throughout his presidency, even though Wagner said Eisenhower got into disputes with his Republican colleagues.

"I had read a few biographies about Eisenhower and what really struck me was how often this president — who was a pretty moderate, even a liberal Republican president — got into it with more conservative members of his own party in Congress," Wagner said. "That just fascinated me because it made me understand that the 1950s were a time before the two parties had become so ideologically divided. There were liberals and conservatives in both parties. So that really fascinated me, and the subject of that first book was Eisenhower Republicanism, how he sort of defined his version of Republicanism and his place in his own party. The second book is sort of more of that. The first book was really academic and geared toward an academic audience and I really thought of this one as more accessible to the general public."

Wagner said both political parties in the 1950s were different than the parties today.

"A few years back, I had seen a few references to my first book and there was a lot of interest in Eisenhower and the Republican Party because it was such a different party from the one we're seeing under Trump," Wagner said. "I had been seeing a lot of references to Eisenhower and a couple of references to my book, and I contacted my publisher and asked them if they were considering putting out a paperback version of it because it was only available by hardback. Then they came back to me with a different idea. They said they were doing a series of books called 'People for our Time' and what they wanted to do was pick some historical figures and have authors write about what we could learn from those people that was relevant to our time today. I really thought that was a good way to say what I was trying to say about Eisenhower, so it worked out great."

Wagner said he took a yearlong sabbatical from Southern just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and was able to take extra time to work on the book as the pandemic limited the ability to have in-person classes at Southern.

"I think his lesson to us is to find the center, to find the balance, to find the middle way between two more extreme positions," Wagner said. "Nowadays, when people think about the center or being a moderate, we often think about that moderate as someone who is wishy-washy or can't make up their mind, something like that. But Eisenhower really believed it was a real political philosophy, that we should find the center, that we should compromise our position so we could include the broadest spectrum of the American people to get behind that position. I think he would say that we really lack that today."