The initial domestic objectives of the new administration were to balance the budget, reduce the agricultural surplus by lowering price supports for farm products, and institute a loyalty program that would discourage the investigations of Senator McCarthy. Apart from Eisenhower’s inexperience, other obstacles impeded his efforts. Groups accustomed to receiving financial aid from the federal government opposed the reduction of government expenditures, and Congress was reluctant to offend them. Farmers wanted to grow as much as they pleased while retaining high price supports. Worse still, factional differences paralyzed the small Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress. Control rested with the Taft faction. Taft had tried to cooperate with Eisenhower, but he soon died. Thereafter, congressional leadership was more obstructive.
As a result, it took Eisenhower three years to balance the budget, and his victory was illusory because mounting expenditures for foreign aid and defense soon produced a new deficit. He also secured a token cut in support prices for agriculture. At first his cautious efforts to outflank McCarthy were fruitless, but McCarthy overreached he in 1954, was censured by the Senate, and lost his influence. Meanwhile, a mild economic recession had begun, and many people blamed the monetary policies of George M. Humphrey, the conservative secretary of the treasury.
The Supreme Court confronted Eisenhower with another problem in May 1954 by declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. It set no time schedule for compliance. Most Northern African Americans customarily voted Democratic, and Eisenhower might have converted some by pressing energetically for implementation of the court order. But he temporized, partly because he was fearful of arresting the movement of Southern Democrats into the Republican Party.
Presidents seldom look, as good in their second term as in their first, and Eisenhower was no exception to the rule. During his second term, Eisenhower also faced increasing repercussions from the 1954 school desegregation decision of the Supreme Court. Inclined to take the legally defensible but morally dubious position of acquiescing in delaying tactics, Eisenhower was obliged to act when a Southern mob obstructed token integration of a high school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957. His initial efforts to get state authorities to enforce a federal court order were fruitless. So he dispatched military units to Little Rock and secured compliance with bayonets. The sullen attitude of local whites discouraged Eisenhower from further efforts at integration either by coercion or any other method. The adverse effect of his indecisiveness on African Americans was compounded by the tactics of Republican senators, many of who voted with Southern Democrats to retain the rules permitting filibusters against civil rights legislation. Civil rights acts passed in 1957 and 1960 dealt rather ineffectively with voting rights.
Neither African Americans nor any other discontented group were inclined to support the Republicans when Eisenhower’s magical name did not head the ticket. The GOP, also handicapped by a recession, suffered a disastrous defeat in the 1958 congressional elections as the Democrats sharply increased majorities in both the Senate and the House.