The university was paid a visit yesterday by Mr. Kasey S. Pipes, an author and speech writer. Pipes gave a speech to a group of Huntsville residents and students on his new book, “Ike’s Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality,” and followed the speech with a question and answer session and book signing.
“We’re very grateful to be here,” Pipes said, motioning to his wife, Lacie, who is expecting their first child. “If we can reconnect college students today with American leaders like Eisenhower, I’ll be happy. He may seem like an old man, but I think we can learn a lot from him.”
Pipes has been directly involved with major political figures since before he graduated college, including Fort Worth Mayor Kay Granger during her 1996 campaign and President George W. Bush during both his 1999 and 2004 campaigns, serving as Chief Writer of the National Republican Party Platform during the latter. His first position, however, was as an intern in the California office of former President Ronald Reagan.
“It was a great thrill. I interned in his office in the summer of 1995. He had just announced in 1994 that he had Alzheimer’s,” Pipes said. “But when I got to spend about fifteen minutes with him one day, he was great. He was Reagan, funny and telling stories.”
It was while working at Reagan’s office that Pipes learned some of the most important lessons about speech making. Reagan’s career had been a powerful influence on him throughout his childhood, and Pipes always remembered “the power of Reagan’s words.”
“Reagan didn’t consider himself a great communicator; he said he communicated great things, and there’s a very profound truth in that,” Pipes said. “Before you write something, you have to make sure it makes sense, and it offers people something.”
Of all of the prominent political figures Pipes has worked with, he feels that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger really embraced that ideology in the speeches he collaborated on with him in 2006.
“His idea was always, ‘Let’s get the policy right, then figure out how to explain it.’ I really admired that,” Pipes said. “You could take all the creative license you wanted when you were working with him. He kept talking about making repairs, so I came up with the metaphor of comparing California to an old house with a leaky roof, and he loved it.”
Throughout all of his experiences writing with well-known political figures, one dream Pipes always kept in the back of his mind was the idea of one day writing for himself, according to his official website, http://www.kaseypipes.com That wish inspired him to write the book he gave his presentation on, a biography on Dwight D. Eisenhower focusing on his treatment of civil rights and his leadership during the Little Rock Central High integration crisis of 1957.
“We’ll actually do fifteen promotional events and fifty radio interviews,” Pipes said. “I think the book is a lot of fun, and discusses a really important missing piece of Eisenhower’s life that I don’t think was ever properly done. It’s been very gratifying to see the media talking about that.”
Just listening to Pipes talk about Eisenhower in his address concerning the book, it’s very clear that not only was his study of the former president very in-depth, but very multi-faceted as well.
“Something happened to me as I began researching this story. It became a character study of Eisenhower, and I realized that the story is much bigger than Arkansas,” Pipes said. “I stopped caring about what Eisenhower said about civil rights, but what civil rights said about Eisenhower.”
One of the strongest points Pipes made in his presentation was how much of a personal struggle the whole ordeal was for Eisenhower to deal with. According to Pipes, the authors that wrote during Eisenhower’s period and shortly thereafter unanimously agreed that the incident was “not his finest hour,” and Pipes offered no disagreement to their assertions.
“Eisenhower saw Little Rock as a failure, and his friends never gave him credit for his actions, but instead painted a very consistent picture that the ordeal was a struggle for him,” Pipes said. “What I did was try to incorporate them into my story. I don’t think they were incorrect, I think they were incomplete.”
Pipes feels that if the critics of that time had taken into account the full, personal journey Eisenhower had made in regards to his attitude and treatment of civil rights, that there was a different interpretation to be seen.
“They were looking at this as a moment in time,” Pipes said. ” What you have to do is step back and paint a fuller picture of Eisenhower. If you want to study the best of leaders, you have to do it during the worst of times, and I think Eisenhower deserves a lot of credit.”
Pipes took the time to address several of the characteristics Eisenhower displayed during the conflict that led him to believe he was a true example of a strong leader, including his deliberate habit of paying attention to any and all relevant perspectives.
“Eisenhower had a dual track system. He was always looking for input from both sides of an issue,” Pipes said. “That shows you how cautious and meticulous he was, and how much he wanted to find a solution.”
Ultimately, the book became a study of the qualities Eisenhower displayed during the controversy, and a reflection of the attributes Pipes has come to admire in the political figures he has known. Though Pipes confesses that he does not feel Eisenhower “got it all right,” he still refers to the book as a “story of leadership” that everyone could relate to.
“We all have issues we’re facing right now, with work or friends or family,” he said. “This book is for you.”