- Historic Sites
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
ONE OF THE LARGEST crowds ever assembled at Los Angeles Airport to meet anybody met our man Stevenson on Saturday, July 9, when he landed from Chicago forty-eight hours before the delegations would be seated at the Sports Arena. With the help of a few movie stars and some volunteers from Southern California, the campaign had turned out over seven thousand people, plus camera crews from all three national networks. I was there too.
Stevenson seemed awed by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd. I thought he was sensing for the first time that something extraordinary was going on. On a television interview program next evening, he was asked about this reception. “I am their candidate,” he said, coming teasingly close to declaring himself actively in the race. “If they want me to lead them, I shall lead them.”
Inevitably, from the moment of his arrival, the Stevenson campaign waited for its star to make his move. Meanwhile Doyle and the rest of the campaign committee had nicely set the stage. There was a Stevenson convention office staffed by about two dozen experienced political operators and about one hundred and fifty amateurs, doing everything from delegate contacts, intelligence gathering, and public relations to sign painting, running the headquarters elevator, and driving the campaign bus. The organization functioned on a low budget and devotion; for penniless volunteers it provided a dormitory and sleeping bags on the top floor of the Paramount Building. It manufactured and distributed thousands of buttons and fliers, hung an enormous banner from our building in plain view of the Biltmore, installed about two hundred phone lines, and rounded up demonstrators to greet Stevenson at every public appearance. Most important, led by Doyle and Monroney, it had opened discussions with delegates from many states, including California, Iowa, Kansas, and New Jersey.
We argued that our man had made a wise decision and was sticking to it: willing to run if nominated, unwilling to block his competitors. Yes, we expected an active candidacy; no, we could not say when. That settled, the numbers would tell the truth: neither Kennedy nor anyone else could say he had 761 votes sewn up. And this led to a repeated litany, one I also used with any reporter who came by my office for a chat: “If Stevenson were to receive the vote of every delegate who really prefers him but is voting for Johnson to stop Kennedy, or for Kennedy to stop Johnson, it would be Stevenson on the first ballot.” Until the airport reception for Stevenson, and its replay on television, the argument was debatable at best; afterward it was credible. That was the meaning of the Stevenson movement in the chemistry of the 1960 Democratic convention.
On Stevenson’s first night in town, I went with Doyle to a sumptuous, crowded lawn party in honor of Stevenson. Driving over, Doyle had told me this would be his first face-to-face meeting with Stevenson since midwinter. They had kept in touch by phone, but they were not close associates. Doyle’s early inspiration to draft Stevenson had been just that, Doyle’s inspiration.
At the party there was no reception line. We found Stevenson talking amiably to John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard economist, and waited our turn. Galbraith, multitalented and prolific, was quintessentially the Stevenson intellectual of the 1952–56 era, but he had switched from Stevenson to Kennedy a year earlier. I learned years afterwards that, later that night, one of Stevenson’s women friends had told Galbraith to his face that he was guilty of the “worst personal betrayal in American history.”
Doyle introduced me to Stevenson, who surprised him by mentioning the article we had written together for Look . Stevenson was tanned and plump and cheerful. Doyle looked weary and pale.
“What have you been doing lately, Jim?” Stevenson asked, blithely.
“This and that,” said Doyle.
“Got me in a lot of trouble,” Stevenson said with a sly smile.
“Everything is all right,” said Doyle, stoutly.
I thought it was a bad moment, difficult and poignant, for both men. Since Doyle had started his “Draft Stevenson” effort, Stevenson in person or by phone had never said a word to him that could have been construed as definitive authority for what Doyle was trying to do. Doyle seemed to want to hear something that night, a word of encouragement was all, but there was no opening amid all the gaiety for anything other than light banter. Wellwishers pushed in, and Doyle and I moved away. We went to the bar, then stood back against a tree.
“Are we going to win, Jim?” I asked.
“We are going to gut the sonsabitches,” said Doyle, who was not a profane man.
SUNDAY MORNING , one day before the convention’s opening night, Stevenson sent for Monroney and a group of us from the campaign committee to visit him at his Beverly Hills Hotel cottage. Among us was Thomas Finney, a slight and deceptively youthful thirty-eight-year-old Oklahoman who was our chief of delegate intelligence. Monroney said Finney’s task was to convince Stevenson that the nomination could be won if he would now abandon his noncandidacy and fight for it. Reporters and photographers assigned to bird-dog Stevenson were stretched out on the lawn as we arrived. A reporter asked him gratuitously why he was for Stevenson. “Because I’m a bigot,” Finney said.