Madly For Adlai

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Collins firmly ordered the music stopped. The band paused, then quit. Ushers ran onto the field and corralled the drum majorettes. The flag did not get within fifty yards of the podium. I don’t think Stevenson ever knew that it was for him.

Yet Floyd May left the Coliseum in high spirits. He had served a purpose. A remarkable candidacy had ended. In a short time, really, a movement had risen, transformed the hopes of millions into a dynamic political campaign, and, despite failure, made waves that could be long felt in American politics, and even more deeply than Floyd could have predicted. The Stevensonians averse to Kennedy and Johnson would, for example, surface again during the Vietnam crisis. They would help provide Eugene McCarthy’s base for the “Dump Johnson” movement of 1967–68 and enable McCarthy to contend credibly for the Democratic presidential nomination against Robert Kennedy. Among other Stevensonians in McCarthy’s own campaign were Finney, Garth, and myself.

A few days after that final, comical scene at the Coliseum, Richard Rovere wrote in The New Yorker of the Stevenson campaign of 1960: “It was only for a moment—a moment now difficult to recall—that anyone doubted that Senator Kennedy would win the prize he sought. …”

It was Stevenson’s moment, all right, but also Floyd May’s, I like to think. At the Coliseum, Floyd had merely been trying to end the story truly and well for both the man and the movement—with the bang he thought it deserved. Falling short of a bang, like our campaign itself, Floyd made certain, at least, that we did not go out with a whimper.