“If you give me a week, I might think of one.”
At a press conference fifty years ago today, the topic of Vice President Nixon’s role came up. President Eisenhower had this exchange with Time‘s Charles Mohr:
Q. Mr. Mohr: We understand that the power of decision is entirely yours, Mr. President. I just wondered if you could give us an example of a major idea of his that you had adopted in that role, as the decider and final–
THE PRESIDENT. If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.
The line turned out to be very helpful to Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who used it in a famous attack ad.
Actually, the quotation was not in context. Here is what Eisenhower said just before:
I said he was not a part of decision-making. That has to be in the mind and heart of one man. All right. Every commander that I have ever known, or every leader, or every head of a big organization, has needed and sought consultative conferences with his principal subordinates. In this case, they are normally Cabinet officers. They include also such people as the head of GSA, the Budget Bureau, and the Vice President as one of the very top. So the Vice President has participated for 8 years, or 7 years, in all of the consultative meetings that have been held. And he has never hesitated–and if he had I would have been quite disappointed–he has never hesitated to express his opinion, and when he has been asked for it, expressed his opinion in terms of recommendation as to decision. But no one, and no matter how many differences or whether they are all unanimous–no one has the decisive power. There is no voting.