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Madly For Adlai
The masses and the media made waves for the Stevenson campaign of 1960 and almost upset John F. Kennedy’s bid for the Democratic nomination. The waves have been felt ever since.
August/september 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 5
William Allen White once wrote that Teddy Roosevelt had bitten him and “I went mad.” Stevenson’s bite had had a similar effect on these demonstrators, for whom it had all come down to a matter of these last few votes. Things did not look promising. Perhaps they should have known. You cannot make change by will alone. Movements are born, but campaigns are made, and the Stevenson campaign of 1960 needed more than they could give.
IT ALL BEGAN inside Adlai Stevenson’s head. After his second defeat in 1956, he humbly announced he would not seek nomination again. By late 1959, with Eisenhower winding down and Nixon looming, with Sputnik in the air and a sense of drift in the West, with both a cry for desegregation and a fear of the future rising everywhere, he had not changed his stance. But the times had changed his situation. To keep out, he would have to get out. He would be putting himself forward unless he pulled himself all the way back. And that is what he did not do.
Nor is it any wonder, with so many Democrats expressing reservations about the party’s younger leaders.
John F. Kennedy, the charismatic, seemed handicapped by opportunism, inexperience, and an ambiguous civil liberties record, dating back to the McCarthy era. He was not as liberal as Stevenson on international issues, not as dedicated to party reform. His preconvention strategy was clear; he intended to try to control as many state organizations as possible. Furthermore, no one knew for sure which way the Catholic issue would cut, but the early form looked dubious. Kennedy’s generational politics also created suspicion and distrust; he would, in fact, have to prove himself in the Presidency before he could actually captivate the young people with whom he had earlier identified himself. The young were Stevensonians.
Johnson, leader of the Senate and power broker among power brokers in Washington, seemed too conservative, too incapable of sustained moral leadership, and probably too corrupt. His guns-and-butter politics appealed mainly to other members of Congress.
Least well-known was Symington, who appeared to be too nice, too boring, and too close to the center to be relevant.
Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was also listed on the morning line; a Cold Warrior and civil rights liberal, he was probably unelectable.
For all of them, the Democrats’ foreign policy for the sixties was the ultimate issue (although no one related it precisely to Vietnam). And this meant, given their names, that the Democrats’ best man might once again be Stevenson, the tested and tempered peacemaker.
Therefore, by not making himself unavailable, Stevenson created speculation which, given his record and reputation, created an undeclared candidacy. He also confused the press, which rebels against the conditional, the intangible, and the unknowable in life, especially politics. The pundits said this no-yes position was a tactic in search of a strategy. It was not presidential. It was Hamlet again. The admirable Stevenson must decide, no or yes, they said, and surely he should campaign openly or quit.
It was not to be. Rather, it now seems, no-yes was a Stevensonian affirmation-within-limits, a typical, rational, and perfectly defensible (to me) strategy for winning the nomination. In the months before the convention, in fact, Adlai practiced a kind of active noncandidacy. He allowed modest amounts of money to be spent on his behalf, repeatedly made it quite clear that he was open to a draft, and delivered some stunning foreign policy speeches, reminding his party that he was the only experienced statesman on the team. If he were to be nominated, he would have to choose a time before the voting to change from passive to active candidacy. But prior to the convention itself, the specter of those double defeats made him simply too vulnerable to make a move openly.
“I think his no-campaign strategy was right,” says David Garth, who went on from Stevenson’s 1960 campaign to become an international political consultant. “Adlai would otherwise have been subject to criticism that he had no right to run a third time. That meant others had to make a movement to prepare a climate of momentum around the country for him and we did it.”
DURING THE YEAR before the convention, Stevenson sentiment sprouted grass roots in every region and finally became the inspiration for “draft” Stevenson committees in forty-five states. The campaign to transform this spirit into actual power at the convention received a crucial lift early in 1960 from a group of wealthy Stevenson backers in New York. They hired Russell Hemenway, a former aide to Gov. Averell Harriman, to travel around the country and test the waters for Stevenson among Democratic officeholders. Hemenway also consulted with James Doyle of Madison, Wisconsin, a one-time chairman of his state’s Democrats, who had independently announced formation of a national “Draft Stevenson” committee that he intended to lead. And in Washington, Hemenway hooked up with two U.S. senators, A. S. Mike Monroney of Oklahoma and John Carroll of Colorado, both of whom had declared early for Stevenson.
Soon Monroney was in touch with Doyle and Stevenson’s Washington adviser and friend George Ball, a lawyer. Then Monroney’s administrative assistant, Thomas Finney, a lawyer from Oklahoma and a former CIA officer, and John Sharon, a partner in Ball’s law firm, opened a Stevenson coordinating office in Washington with funds from the New York group. Gradually the New York, Washington, and Wisconsin groups coalesced into a campaign with personal lines of communication to Stevenson himself.