Robin Gerber was once asked while giving a talk about in conjunction with her book, Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, if Eleanor Roosevelt ever did anything wrong. Ms. Gerber’s response was, “Yes, she should have run for president.” From that question and her own response, Eleanor vs. Ike, an interesting, fun, and fast-paced novel, was born. It imagines what might have happened if Eleanor Roosevelt ran for president in 1952 against Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Gerber’s inaugural novel begins with Eleanor in Europe, finishing work on a United Nations meeting. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away, Eleanor continued to work for our country. While preparing to leave the meeting, she received an obituary for Lucy Rutherford, a woman with whom her husband had had an affair. Opening the novel with this story really worked to peak my interest about Eleanor. Other than what I may have learned about her in school and the glimpse of her in Annie, I do not know much about her or the world that she inhabited. I was drawn in to the novel by the story of her marriage and childhood.
There is also a lot to be learned and thought through along the roller coaster ride of the 1952 presidential election. Not only did Eleanor and Ike have voices in this novel, so did their staff and their supporters. Sometimes having too many narrators can weigh a novel down, but seeing the campaign from the inside and the outside made it a richer experience. In a time of election, especially during a time of political crisis, we all work together – or, in the case of fringe groups like the KKK, against each other – to determine the course of our history.
As a country, we’ve never had a female represent either major party as it’s presidential candidate. While that might change by the end of the summer, Eleanor vs. Ike addressed many of the issues such a race would bring up. In Gerber’s election of 1952, Eleanor’s detractors were men. I was anticipating another woman to rise up and wreak havoc on her campaign, but such a woman never materialized. Women do tend to serve as each other’s worst enemies, but having Eleanor’s vocal and vicious opposition made up by men is appropriate for that time period. Both political parties were run and controlled by men. A woman would have to run through that gauntlet first. If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic candidate for president, it will be interesting to see if that has changed.
If I have no vested interest in the outcome, I tend to root for the underdog. This may be attributed to the fact that I grew up as a Detroit Tiger fan, but it’s a part of me nonetheless. Eleanor’s gender and personal insecurities easily made her seem to be an underdog, but her courage in her convictions and her love for her country made her a strong person and a formidable candidate. Despite the fact that there never really was a runoff between Eleanor and Ike, I got caught up in the campaign. Gerber’s dialog is wonderfully readable and moves the novel forward. I stayed up way past my bed time to find out who won the election of 1952 and it was well worth the loss of sleep. We need more leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, be they Democrats or Republicans. Although she was never on the ballot, I promise you won’t regret casting your vote for her by reading this book.
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