August/september 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 5
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.
AT ABOUT TEN O’CLOCK on a smoggy Wednesday night, July 13, 1960, in the vast inner space of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the national convention of the Democratic party was ablaze with light, drowned in noise, bubbling with red, white, and blue placards, and reeking with tobacco smoke and the tension of more than ten thousand people. At stake in the next hour or so would be the party’s 1960 presidential nomination, the winner almost certain to oppose Republican Richard Nixon, the incumbent Vice-President, in the fall campaign. At least for the duration of the political season, the Democrats assembled would soon resolve the destiny of one man among several contenders—in all probability, Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
These Democrats could be somewhat less conclusive about the fate of the losers. Next day, Thursday, they might offer one of them (the runner-up?) second place on the Democratic ticket; he could also try again for the top spot in four or eight years. The others, including a long list of favorite sons, could look forward to future campaigns. Yet for one exception, as every delegate knew, there would be no tomorrow. This was the oldest of the leading contenders, sixty-year-old Adlai Stevenson, the former one-term governor of Illinois, who had led the party to pitiful but proud national defeat in both 1952 and 1956.
Surely, unless Stevenson were to triumph that Wednesday night, the party could expect no more presidential tries for him. The man was a world-class statesman, despite twin losses to Dwight Eisenhower, and a first-rate public speaker, despite the elitism of his vision, summed up by his slightly patronizing, enormously exhilarating premise, “Let’s talk sense to the American people.” But now, should he lose, as expected by all but a few in that pulsating throng, it would be his last hurrah at best—or his heartrending terminal rejection, at worst, if you were madly for Adlai.
Only not so fast. Politics is the only game besides horseshoes where “almost” counts. For the Democrats in the present instance, should the two-time loser’s candidacy fail, the campaign that brought its hero’s name this far in 1960 still might not be a total loss. Stevenson’s candidacy was powered by more than his ambitions and seemingly doomed nomination strategy; it belonged to a movement that had a life and a political meaning of its own.
The Stevenson campaign of 1960 is only dimly remembered today. Most surveys of the era bury it; the most honorable exceptions, with some warts, are the works of John Bartlow Martin, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Theodore H. White. An early undertaker was Arthur Krock of The New York Times , who, two weeks after the Democratic convention wrote: “At Los Angeles… the attention given to Stevenson was slight and brief.” Most immediate post-mortems praised the man and buried the movement; subsequent memoirs tend to discount the efforts of both as a waste of time that never had a chance.
At first glance any consideration of Stevenson’s name by the 1960 convention would seem to have faced insurmountable obstacles. Stevenson himself had never, flat out, asked for the nomination. Public opinion polls that showed him losing to Nixon discouraged it. Better organized and financed campaigns for the active candidacies of three popular incumbent U.S. senators opposed it. The odds-on favorite, far ahead in delegate strength, was the aggressive young Kennedy; second came the wily Lyndon Johnson of Texas; third, the methodical Stuart Symington of Missouri. And perhaps most important, the party’s hierarchy did not want Stevenson anyway. By nature, political bosses abhor back-to-back double losers. Stevenson’s attraction for party reformers troubled them even more. The sum of it was that Stevenson had more enemies than friends, not so much because he openly opposed both the new men and the old pros as because they opposed what he stood for and seemed to mean in American politics.
Perhaps Walter Lippmann had it right in 1965 when, at the time of Stevenson’s death, he described Adlai’s enemies not as men whom he had injured, because he had not injured anyone. Rather, he wrote, “His enemies were men who recognized that he did not share and was a living reproach to the new imperiousness of our power and wealth, that he was a deeply established American who had no part in the arrogance of the newly rich and the newly powerful and the newly arrived. His presence made them uncomfortable, even abashed, all the more because he was so witty when they were so hot, so elegant when they were making a spectacle of themselves.”
Yet, despite that enmity, Stevenson had become a leading contender once again. Hope for his nomination was still faintly alive as the balloting was about to begin…
THIS MEMOIR WAS written just weeks away from the start of the 1984 Democratic national convention by a Democrat who was there in Los Angeles nearly twenty-five years ago. The fact that the present Democratic party is more open and more representative than it was in the past is, in part, at least, the legacy not only of the man but of the movement that the Democratic convention had to consider that night in 1960. Recalling that convention from the viewpoint of the Stevenson campaign is worthwhile, I think, lest we forget an important aspect of how one of the two great American parties got from there to here.
I REMEMBER THAT , about 10:00 P.M. that Wednesday night, I was standing aside under the arch of one of the exit doors of the Sports Arena looking in on the convention floor. The approach of the inevitable creates a special kind of suspense; the strain of anticipation and resignation makes a crowd tingle. It is pleasant and scary. It is the appeal of theater, especially the circus and the ritual sports, like bullfighting. It was all there.
Behind me, in a protected parking lot just beyond the arena’s outside wall, was a restricted area, covered with fake grass and bordered by a low, white picket fence, where the Stevenson campaign had parked three white office trailers, side by side. Nearby were the Kennedy bungalow and trailer camps for the other contenders.
The first Stevenson trailer was a communications and control center for the platoon of radio-equipped Stevenson workers maneuvering among the delegates on the packed floor. Inside I could see the campaign’s two young social scientists, Victor DeGrazia and Dave Green of Chicago. They would be taking last-minute walkie-talkie inquiries about delegate politics, poring through their convention intelligence files, and reporting back to the Stevenson workers. Their two-way broadcasting system, using makeshift gear to solve the mobility problem endemic to convention-floor politicking, had been set up on a shoestring by David Garth of New York, a Stevenson campaign leader and television producer of sports programs.
The second Stevenson trailer was a delegates’ lounge, stocked with beer and soft drinks, bales of campaign literature, and a black-and-white television set. It was empty. Even the volunteer receptionists, called “Stevenson girls,” had slipped onto the floor to Be There.
Third was the Stevenson press-information trailer, abandoned now to piles of dated backgrounders and releases issued from the Stevenson campaign base at the Paramount Building on Hill Street at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. The sign over the trailer’s door bore my name, too, as I had been press secretary for the Stevenson campaign for the past three weeks.
I had no more chores for the night. My last had been a few hours earlier when I processed, for several hundred reporters inside the convention hall, press-release copies of a speech by Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota placing Stevenson’s name in nomination.
Just two hours before, having climbed into the press gallery behind the rostrum and distributed my releases, I had seen and heard McCarthy launch his incendiary peroration. He was tall and broad-shouldered and spoke tipped back on his heels with his chin raised and both hands on the podium. He was about John Kennedy’s age and, like Kennedy, an Irish Catholic. Earlier, only half-joking I thought, he had said: “If they want an Irish Catholic, why don’t they take me instead of him? I’m twice the Democrat and three times the Catholic.” But that Wednesday evening there had been no laughs. He spoke hypnotically, his voice rich and sharp, yet soft around the edges, lilting: “And so I say to you Democrats here assembled: Do not turn away from this man. Do not reject this man. He has fought gallantly. He has fought courageously. He has fought honorably.
“In 1952 in the great battle. [For Democrats, Stevenson’s noble speeches in his first race against Eisenhower remained a never-to-be-forgotten affirmation of their party’s Roosevelt tradition.]
“In 1956 he fought bravely. [Facing a second loss to Eisenhower, Stevenson had called for a ban on testing hydrogen bombs, proposed a volunteer army to replace the military draft, and envisioned a new America.]
”… Do not reject this man who, his enemies said, spoke above the heads of the people, but they said it only because they didn’t want the people to listen. He spoke to the people. [Stevenson’s speeches leading up to the 1960 convention had concerned peacemaking through world law, accommodation with the Soviets, and admitting Red China to the United Nations.] He moved their minds and stirred their hearts, and this was what was objected to. Do not leave this prophet without honor in his own party. Do not reject this man.
“I submit to you a man who is not the favorite son of any one state. I submit to you the man who is the favorite son of fifty states…. This favorite son I submit to you: Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois.”
AND WITH THAT a volcanic demonstration erupted, unprecedented in the modern memory of the Democratic party, portentous because we still believed in 1960 that a single demonstration might change the outcome of a convention. Only twenty years before, in 1940, a gallery uprising for Wendell Willkie helped him win the Republican nomination. Besides, with live television beaming this particular spectacle into the homes and favorite saloons of most of the voters of America, how could the Democrats reject Stevenson and expect to win in November?
Here now were more than two thousand unofficial Stevenson supporters suddenly pouring in from outside and flowing onto the floor, with perhaps another two thousand parading in the balcony. At first they seemed to dismay the convention’s 4,509 full- and half-vote delegates and their alternates, almost all of whom had intended to vote on the first ballot for someone else. But not for long. Ten minutes into the demonstration an all-girl brass band in handsome star-spangled uniforms appeared at the back of the hall, high-stepping into the fray. Then, as banners snaked along the aisles, waved from the balcony, fluttered from the rafters, a giant papier-maché “snowball” —made of petitions bearing more than a million signatures calling on the convention to “Draft Stevenson”— rolled out from behind the rostrum. It floated above the crowd as though lifted on an invisible wave of human enthusiasm. In truth it was volleyed by a team working for Harold “Doc” Humes of New York, a novelist and volunteer who had driven the paper ball from New York to Los Angeles, adding petitions and rallying Stevensonians along the way. It was the giant ball, I saw, that was turning dismay into delight. “Look, it’s Sputnik!” someone cried.
Madly for Adlai, individual delegates, and then whole delegations, joined in the demonstration. In the New York section, the elder statesman Herbert Lehman fought a younger and opposing delegate for their state’s stanchion, tore it free, and proudly flung himself into the maelstrom. Snake-dancing Californians undulated through neighboring delegations, hoping to attract the uncommitted like filings to a magnet. Before long, the stanchion of every state had been moved into the aisles and could be seen bobbing above the swirling human traffic.
By my watch, the demonstration lasted twenty-seven minutes. It might have gone on that much longer had not the convention chairman, Gov. LeRoy Collins of Florida, dimmed the lights and silenced the band to restore order. Even when it was over, it was not really over. Eleanor Roosevelt came on to second the Stevenson nomination and started another stampede that convulsed the convention for fifteen minutes more!
I had not joined in either demonstration. I watched both from the press gallery, if only to savor them more. They had provided the kind of excitement everyone working full-time with the Stevenson campaign had been dreaming of; what might not be possible at this convention after all?
Then, as any number of forgettable speakers rose to nominate the favorite sons of several states, I crossed the floor again. I wished the voting had begun immediately after the second Stevenson demonstration. The Kennedy, Johnson, and Symington floor managers and unofficial arm-twisters were hustling anxiously among the exhausted and strangely relieved delegates. They were checking commitments, plugging leaks, battening down the hatches. I bumped into Robert Kennedy; he acknowledged my “Draft Stevenson” button with an ice-cold stare.
To win, a candidate needed a majority of 1,520 delegate votes; exactly 761 was the number. In grim truth Kennedy was a probable winner on the first ballot. Johnson had perhaps 400 votes, give or take 10. Symington might claim another 100, no more, and the same total might go to Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota (defeated by Kennedy in the spring primaries) and such favorite sons as Gov. Robert Meyner of New Jersey. Stevenson, at best, could hope for 80 votes, and that was stretching it. Whatever Kennedy’s total, it looked like more than 761.
Then what chance did Stevenson have? Only that those mighty, last-minute crashing waves of emotion had swept away the Kennedy majority and would somehow prevent any candidate from reaching a majority on the first ballot. Anything could happen after that, even a transformation of Adlai madness into an irresistible tide of support. And so our floor workers kept fighting, too, moving from buttonhole to buttonhole, talking miracle.
A little after ten o’clock Chairman Collins struck the gavel a few times and ordered the general bedlam to cease. The sergeant at arms would clear the aisles; the secretary would call the roll. The television nation took a deep breath. The radio world moved closer to its set.
Alabama! Alabama voted, followed by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas … and then on to California. No state had surprised me, but I realized I could not keep up with the count in the remote doorway where I had been standing. So I returned to the empty Stevenson delegates’ trailer, turned on the television, opened a beer, and picked up the count around about Idaho. I took out my notebook.
IN A FEW DAYS , at the end of my month’s assignment as campaign press secretary, I would be returning to my workaday life as a journalist, based in New York and writing free-lance for magazines. An editor of Look magazine and a mentor of mine, William Attwood, on leave to write speeches for Stevenson, had recommended me for the press job. When I first arrived in Los Angeles, late in June, the manager of the Stevenson headquarters, Tedson Meyers, paid my full salary in advance; he was a legal counsel to the American Broadcasting Company and also on leave. I received six hundred dollars in cash which, as it turned out, was about half the money I would spend on my plane fare, hotel bills, meals, rented car, and living expenses. I had become not only a Stevenson volunteer but a contributor. So I started keeping notes on the campaign against the slim chance that I might cover my losses with a magazine piece about how Stevenson had won it. Like my hero, I was a practical idealist.
I had been a Stevenson man from very far back. He had served as governor of Illinois in Springfield, where I was born and had been raised a Roosevelt Democrat. At age twenty-two, in 1948, I cast my first vote ever for Stevenson. Working nights during the campaigns of 1952 and 1956 in New York, I wrote campaign pamphlets for Volunteers for Stevenson. In the spring of 1956, wearing my journalist’s hat for Look , I covered two weeks of Stevenson’s preconvention campaign. Later he asked me to work with him on a post-campaign article for Look entitled “Why I Raised the H-Bomb Issue.”
He had impressed me as a self-possessed man, but diffident to a fault, proud of his stature and maddeningly precise. He was a Henry James character in a Joseph Heller world.
At heart, though, he seemed to me to be a man of action. Once past his private hang-ups, he surely loved the attack on public issues, the shield of reason in one hand, the bow of language in the other, and a quiver full of gags, puns, and aphorisms slung across his back. And when he finally delivered a speech he had written and rewritten, he made you feel chosen. More effectively than any politician of that time, for me, he articulated a desire for responsibility-without-overreaching to match the power of the United States after World War II. The merits of his positions entitled him to his idiosyncrasies.
And that is why I was drawn to the Stevenson campaign in 1960. As Sen. Richard Neuberger of Oregon had said, “If Stevenson does not go to the White House, millions of his fellow Americans will feel they have been robbed of their opportunity to live in a time of greatness. ” I was certainly one of those, a true believer, as were many others.
IT WAS ALMOST eleven, Wednesday night. The convention voting had passed halfway through the roll of states, with Kennedy leading. Then, in response to a challenge, the chairman approved a call for the polling of a delegation; that guaranteed ten minutes of boredom for the great viewing audience. In a twinkling my television picture cut away “live” from the floor to a Fellini night scene outside the Sports Arena. The Madly for Adlai uprising was still going on outside!
Those unofficial Stevenson supporters who had marched earlier inside the convention hall were milling about with perhaps a thousand more who had maintained a vigil against the outer walls. The camera slowly panned across their crude signs and printed placards reading JUST ONE MORE TIME, ADLAI; STEVENSON IS THE THINKING MAN’S CANDIDATE; FOR ADLAI, MADLIER THAN EVER , and the mikes picked up the high-pitched shouts, “We want Stevenson!”
It was Jericho revisited, with live television for a trumpet.
I see now that these thousands of Stevenson demonstrators, some of whom had been parading around the Sports Arena for the three days since the opening of the convention, were in the vanguard of a new political style for America. That their subject was Stevenson, a figure whose future was probably behind him, led most contemporary observers to skip over the signal they were giving about the future of political activism in the United States.
The very essence of the Stevenson movement was about something new in participatory politics, the television audience, and televised citizen action. The struggle of media masses against the system was moving center stage in our political culture.
THE STEVENSON phenomenon of 1960 would play back into the civil rights movement that was to peak in a few years. It would echo in the coming antiwar movement, which would literally be burned out by television. And perhaps most significantly, it would be reprised at the future’s quadrennial Democratic national conventions as other outsiders struggled to become insiders through the powerful combination of mass and media. Not only did Stevensonians give a hopeful start to the sixties there in Los Angeles, but they also influenced a long, slow reformation of the Democratic party by blacks (1964), youth (1968), peaceniks (1972), women (1976), Kennedyites (1980), and by blacks again, and Hispanics and gays as well (1984).
Who were the members of this vanguard in real life? My old notes tell me they were mostly young, passionate but still orderly; or as Norman Mailer reported, they were the “defeated, idealistic, innocent, alienated, outside and Beat” of America. The television tended to focus on boys with beards and girls with ponytails; a singularly pregnant young woman carrying the sign STEVENSON IS THE MAN received special attention; bystanders sniffed at “beatniks” and “zanies.” But on the whole, after having spent some time among them, I thought they included (if unevenly) a cross section of our national life, not just middle-class, college-educated Californians but citizens of all classes, high and low; generations, old and new; and races, black and white and brown. They seemed a good chunk of America, hailing from everywhere. They wanted Stevenson because he had been talking about the “unfinished business” of America in civil liberties and civil rights, in health care, education, and the concerns of the elderly, and in foreign relations.
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.
Also in New York during that winter and spring before the convention, another group was acting independently on its belief that America needed Stevenson. Headed by Tedson Meyers and David Garth, it raised its own money with a full-page “Draft Stevenson” ad in The New York Times and began contacting potential Stevenson volunteers across the country. Impressed, Monroney and Hemenway brought Meyers and Garth into the campaign. Together with Doyle, Finney, and Sharon, they formed the operational core of Stevenson’s preconvention apparatus.
BY MID-JUNE the result of all this effort was the semblance of a national organization working to coordinate the activities of Stevensonians all over the country. Eleanor Roosevelt had blessed it. Monroney and Doyle chaired it. They called it the Stevenson Campaign Committee, leaving off the word draft , I assumed, in the hope that Stevenson would declare himself at any moment.
As July approached, Monroney and Doyle set up shop in Los Angeles itself. With money from Adlai’s fat cats and nationwide fund-raising among small contributors, even schoolchildren, they flew Meyers and Garth to the Coast to locate a Stevenson headquarters and scout the convention layout at the Sports Arena. Finney and Sharon soon followed to work on delegate intelligence and national committee politics.
The Democratic national committee chairman, Paul Butler, ruled that the Stevenson committee, representing an avowed “noncandidate,” had no right to offices at the party’s Biltmore Hotel convention headquarters or to tickets for the Sports Arena convention-hall galleries. Later relenting, Butler assigned the Stevensonians two small rooms on the hotel’s mezzanine, remote from the spacious offices and delegate lounges assigned to the Kennedy, Johnson, and Symington committees. The press dubbed the Stevenson space “Butler’s pantry,” and scored one for our side. Butler also allocated seventy-five seats per convention session for Stevenson spectators; the gallery held seats for more than five thousand.
Unfazed, Meyers rented an abandoned five-story building on Hill Street, facing what was then the sleazy side of Pershing Square Park. The new headquarters was only a minute from the Biltmore convention press facilities; some of the 4,750 media representatives assigned to the convention would be able to find us, and we could find them. I arrived at the end of June to set up a press office. The convention was scheduled to open on Monday, July 11, and last until Friday, July 15. The Stevenson headquarters had already started humming, but without an active candidate the press was disbelieving. How could we be serious if Stevenson was not really running? That was the question. Our answer was a series of optimistic statements by our campaign cochairman, James Doyle, a slim, dark-haired, taciturn man, age forty-five, who had the gift of sincerity. He tried, and failed, to speak for Stevenson.
At one press conference, less than a week before opening night, Monday, July 11, a reporter testily asked, “Why hasn’t Stevenson declared himself—is he shy?”
“Governor Stevenson is not shy,” Doyle replied. “He has taken the only proper and sensible attitude in this situation. He has been the nominee of the party twice. It is inappropriate that he should seek the nomination a third time.” The emphasis was on the word seek .
It was understandable when William Lawrence, a skeptical New York Times reporter, came up to me after Doyle’s statement and said, “There was a shot heard almost nowhere.” He gave me a disgusted look.
Press secretaries are least liked by reporters when they lie, but next least when they call a press conference to say nothing the reporters have not heard before.
Still, the press was wrong about the Stevenson campaign. Our news was not inside the Biltmore but outside where the Stevenson demonstrators had begun to arrive and were making themselves seen and heard on television.
It seemed to me that most of the reporters had themselves arrived feeling supremely confident that Kennedy had already foreclosed on the nomination. As time passed, however, the influence of the demonstrators would be felt within the various delegations and in the atmosphere of the political city. Some reporters would begin to hedge. A consensus would begin to develop that the alternative to Kennedy, if there could be one, would not be Johnson or Symington, but Stevenson; that Kennedy had to win on one or two ballots or not at all; and that a third nomination for Stevenson, which had been beneath consideration in June, was not unthinkable as the convention neared. In a postconvention column, Douglass Cater wrote: “Up to the very last, there was a widespread feeling that the Kennedy bandwagon was of a fairly fragile variety. Like some kind of a jet-propelled aircraft, it had to keep moving to keep from crashing.”
That reflected the feeling of many of us who wished, most of all, that Stevenson had not made the mistake of running against Eisenhower in 1956. His defeat then surely prompted young Kennedy to try for the nomination in 1960 and, of course, labeled Stevenson himself as a two-time loser. Had Stevenson let the inevitable 1956 defeat go to another Democratic contender (Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee perhaps), he would have been ideally positioned to win the nomination in 1960, probably without serious opposition from Kennedy or anyone else.
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.
William Blair, who had been Stevenson’s aide and trusted friend since Springfield, invited us into the living room, indicating that Walter Reuther, head of the United Auto Workers and a Kennedy man, was talking with Stevenson in the bedroom. Blair had been dubious of the Stevenson movement, felt it would fail, and feared that it might embarrass Stevenson, impairing his future usefulness to the country.
Finney, on the contrary, believed the movement had made Stevenson’s candidacy truly possible and that Stevenson’s value to the nation would only be enhanced, win or lose, by this popular surge on his behalf. In essence Blair and Finney respectively stood for the two major points of view among Stevensonians. Stevenson, at that hour, was obviously still listening to both, sticking to his own game plan.
The convention news that morning had not been good for Stevenson. According to the papers, the Kennedy juggernaut was rolling. Governors Loveless of Iowa, Docking of Kansas, Freeman of Minnesota, Edmondson of Oklahoma, and Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington had all declared for Kennedy, had all been prominently mentioned as vice-presidential prospects, and had all “locked up” their delegations for Kennedy, the papers said. The multiple Kennedy announcements obviously were planned to dominate the Sunday-morning front pages thirty-six hours before the call to order. Kennedy’s feisty press secretary, Pierre Salinger, was doing his job. Yesterday’s airport reception for Stevenson was reported lower down among the rest of the day’s news stories.
The Kennedy surge perplexed Blair. Finney countered with research. Convention rules committed Iowa to vote for Governor Loveless himself on the first ballot. Oklahoma, under the unit rule, had to vote for Lyndon Johnson. Kansas and Washington both were demonstrably fluid. Minnesota had yet to caucus and was likely to vote first for Humphrey. Furthermore, only one of the officials mentioned as a potential Kennedy running mate could actual’y be nominated for that honor. “We’ll give Kennedy one Vice-President,” Finney said, “and we’ll take the bitter remains.” Then he went on through the fifty states with the evidence he believed showed that Kennedy would fail on the first ballot.
Blair enthused. “You’ll have to tell the governor this,” he said. “Walter Reuther is in there with him now telling him it is all over.”
Moments later, Reuther, who had once been a Stevenson man, hurried past us through the living room.
Monroney, Sharon, and Finney with his folder full of statistics went into the cottage bedroom. About twenty minutes later they came out with a thoughtful but smiling Stevenson, who shook hands all around and retreated again with Blair. Finney had argued that time was running out but that Stevenson could win if he publicly took charge of the campaign. Monroney believed Stevenson was on the verge. Stevenson had agreed to visit our headquarters later in the day, go on “Face the Nation” that night, and accompany Mrs. Roosevelt to a party luncheon at noon next day, Monday, thereby placing himself in the context of her endorsement just eight hours before the first gavel. By now Mrs. Roosevelt was honorary chairman of the Stevenson committee. Monroney and Finney, however, had not been able to persuade Stevenson to visit any delegation caucuses that Sunday night, meaning, we felt, that he was still not ready to play his end game.
This last shook my faith. It is possible, I told Finney, that there was no fight in Los Angeles left to be fought. Finney cursed me, but the next twenty-four hours seemed to confirm my pessimism.
FIRST, THAT SUNDAY afternoon, Gov. Pat Brown of California announced his support for Kennedy; there was obvious Stevenson strength among the unruly Californians, but the Sunday-night news hailed Brown’s endorsement as another sign of victory for the “roaring, crunching Kennedy bandwagon.” Tightening the screws, Richard Daley of Illinois caucused his delegation later Sunday afternoon and nailed down 59.5 votes for Kennedy to 2 for Stevenson. As a half-vote delegate from Illinois, Stevenson could have attended the caucus, but he declined; his visit to our headquarters, where he was mobbed by his volunteers, gave him the barest of excuses. And early Monday morning Gov. David Lawrence of Pennsylvania, who on Sunday had told reporters that the “best qualified man for the Presidency” was Adlai Stevenson, locked up his state as well, 64 for Kennedy to 8 for Stevenson. To make matters seem surreal, the word got around that Lawrence actually had offered Pennsylvania to Stevenson only hours before, and so he had.
“Lawrence met with Adlai and half a dozen of us late Sunday night,” recalls Russell Hemenway, who now directs the Committee for an Effective Congress. “Lawrence wanted a Stevenson-Kennedy ticket, even though his delegation belonged to Kennedy. We had a Louis Bean poll showing that Stevenson now was actually a better bet to beat Nixon than Kennedy, because of the Catholic issue. So Lawrence said he could hold Pennsylvania if Adlai would tell him then and there he was running. If not, in the morning, he was appearing on the Today Show with Dave Garroway to tell the world Pennsylvania was going for Jack Kennedy.
“And Adlai said to Lawrence, ‘Do what you have to do, Dave.’
“And Bill Wirtz [one of Stevenson’s Chicago aides], who was there, asked Adlai, ‘Governor, are you sure that’s the message you want to give Governor Lawrence?’
“And Adlai said it was.
“Christ, Adlai could’ve said anything but that and he would’ve stopped Pennsylvania from going to Kennedy. David Lawrence was the ace in the hole and we let him go. You know something? That might have been a watershed in American history. Think of it! No Vietnam War!”
AT NOON ON MONDAY , July 11, under this cloud of gloom, a limousine drove Stevenson, who had moved to the Sheraton West Hotel, back to the Beverly Hills Hotel for Eleanor Roosevelt’s luncheon in a large dining room filled to capacity. Mrs. Roosevelt, tall and, as one reporter would observe, grown beautiful in her ripest time, spoke with fervor about Adlai Stevenson to an audience of one, Adlai Stevenson. She incanted her theme that in our next President we needed “maturity, judgment, and the good will of the uncommitted peoples of world.” And she twice repeated her belief that the strongest and best ticket that the Democrats could offer to the nation was Stevenson and Kennedy. She rarely took her eyes from him. I made a note that he was “visibly impressed.” That was the make-or-break moment: Stevenson would fight for himself, now or never.
After lunch, standing with Mrs. Roosevelt and Stevenson, Monroney suggested that I should call a press conference for Stevenson at the Biltmore for the next afternoon. Mrs. Roosevelt volunteered to introduce him, and Stevenson quickly accepted. I realized he would fight.
Stevenson climbed back into his limousine to return to his hotel. Blair, Finney, Sharon, Attwood, and I crowded in with him. Then, as we moved along Wilshire Boulevard, Stevenson wondered aloud whether he would ever have a chance to go to the convention itself. Whether or not he quite approved of the fact, Stevenson’s mind had shifted; he was working for the campaign.
“I’m a delegate,” he said. “I should go, but perhaps an appearance will be misunderstood.”
“Go!” Finney enthusiastically agreed: Stevenson should take his rightful seat with the Illinois delegation, but not Monday night, better the next night. That would be Tuesday, July 12, scheduled for approval of the platform and listening to speeches by Chairman Collins and others.
No one objected. Tradition proscribed candidates from attending the convention until after the balloting, but tradition was not law. Besides, Stevenson’s status was unique; he was still a noncandidate.
He decided to take his seat.
The discussion had been very casual. No plans were made, no hour of arrival set, no talk of a demonstration. A newspaper would later describe the seating of Adlai Stevenson as a “deliberate attempt to stampede the convention.” But to my knowledge, no one in the limousine dreamed Stevenson’s appearance the next evening would electrify the convention. No one could know that an unpredicted crowd of Stevenson demonstrators outside the Sports Arena would be the talk of the convention when it opened a few hours later.
That night, as the delegates convened for the first time, they found the Sports Arena unexpectedly surrounded by a large, well-behaved, noisy crowd of perhaps a thousand Stevenson demonstrators. Inside, the convention opened in comparative dullness and quiet. Several delegates told reporters they could hear the cries and chants of the Stevenson crowd through the walls of the Sports Arena. Moreover, the sense that television was broadcasting the presence and purpose of these Stevensonians on prime time for an enormous audience of potential voters added a new dimension. Not only had there been no such demonstration outside a political convention in recent memory, but none in history had ever been seen “live.” It was bigger news than the keynote address. It was sensational! It could be, someone said, Los Angeles’s answer to the San Francisco earthquake.
TUESDAY MORNING , demonstrators cheered Stevenson as he left his hotel with Monroney to work a promising delegation for the first time. He had chosen Minnesota, which was in caucus at the Statler Hotel. I had alerted the press that Stevenson was off and running, but the word had already passed from the Minnesotans. In my press car following Monroney and Stevenson, the reporters told me that there were rebellions in California, Kansas, and Iowa. One said that headlines proclaiming CALIFORNIA’S BROWN ENDORSES KENNEDY had missed the real California story; Stevenson might even win a majority of the state’s delegates at the caucus scheduled for that night. The reporter showed me his latest column. He had written: ”… one more victory like California for Kennedy and he could lose the war.”
The Minnesota caucus met in a large dining room, but there was standing room only. Monroney had gone in alone, leaving Stevenson in a connecting office. Besides the 62 half-vote delegates, an equal number of alternates, plus spouses, reporters, and observers from all the contending camps had squeezed inside before the doors were closed. Among them was Eugene McCarthy, who had declared for Stevenson. Another spectator was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the historian and Kennedy aide, wearing seersucker and a bow tie and seated on a table at the rear of the room. Schlesinger had already addressed the caucus on Kennedy’s behalf. That spring, having served on Stevenson’s staff in two national campaigns and been considered both a protégé and close friend of Stevenson, he had joined Kennedy, saying he still thought that Stevenson was the best man, but “not a candidate.” Mrs. Roosevelt had damned such defections among former Stevenson intellectuals as “expediency.”
THERE WERE TWO Stevenson speakers, Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Monroney. Kennedy had trounced Humphrey in the West Virginia primary. Backers of Stevenson had contributed to Humphrey’s campaign; but Kennedy, if elected, could help Humphrey get reelected to the Senate from Minnesota. It took some courage for the wounded Humphrey to back Stevenson. As he stood to speak, the caucus responded as though he were a bloodied gladiator rising from the sand. Overcome, Humphrey burst into tears and was unable to speak more than a few garbled words. (Next morning he endorsed Stevenson.)
Monroney followed with a fighting oration, disdainful of Kennedy’s claim on the nomination and filled with gambling images. The delegates must, he said, “take the long chance.” In the midst of a standing ovation, he brought in Stevenson from a side door, and the caucus, swept by a great rush of cheers, seemed to levitate.
Stevenson’s performance proved that he was running, but evidently not on all cylinders. He spoke briefly. He was less eloquent than usual. He lectured on John Foster Dulles, who was not the fish he had been expected to fry. Still, his presence was vintage Stevenson, as ever the dauntless, cheerful, roly-poly man, with a bent nose and Lincolnesque eyes. Just when I thought he was warming up, he thanked one and all and stopped. The delegates had wanted more. But they got on their feet—some stood on their chairs—and left no doubt by their applause that they were not going to Kennedy. They just did not levitate again. If Stevenson’s little talk had not hit a home run, it still had been a very long ball. And while the loving roar filled the room, Schlesinger wept in the back. Whether in regret or remorse, I could not know.
At the Biltmore convention press center, as well as at Stevenson headquarters, excitement bubbled all day Tuesday over the signs that Stevenson was in the race, that he had visited the Minnesota and New York delegations, that he was unlocking delegations previously locked up for others, and that he was on his way that very afternoon to meet Mrs. Roosevelt at the Biltmore Bowl, a large arena in the hotel basement wired and lit for press conferences.
Perhaps three hundred reporters, television crewmen, and Stevenson supporters had packed into the Bowl by the time Stevenson arrived. He was late. Again Mrs. Roosevelt spoke of him to him in almost elegiac terms. Stevenson supporters, many from our office across the park, momentarily turned the press conference into a rally. They waved signs and chanted, “We want Stevenson.”
When Stevenson faced the massed microphones, the Bowl was ready for a ringing declaration of his reasons for becoming an avowed candidate at long last. But Stevenson was not ready, nor was I surprised. In a few hours, as an Illinois delegate, he intended unannounced to take his seat on the convention floor. If he declared himself an active contender at this press conference, then he could not go to the convention.
I had warned a number of key reporters during the day to anticipate no more than a repetition of Stevenson’s “I am their candidate” position. What had changed once again, I argued, was the situation. Since the Stevensonians had become a significant force at the convention as of Monday night at the Sports Arena, the question of noncandidacy need no longer be asked; demonstrators in Pershing Square, in the Biltmore lobby, at the Sheraton West, and again since noon outside the convention underscored my point: Stevenson was running for the nomination his way. “You sound like a fanatic,” a reporter said to me.
But most journalists to whom I was talking agreed; there were too many signs of seeming weakness in the Kennedy ranks. They even perceived Stevenson gaining, if not in delegate numbers, then in influence, in contingency support for a deadlock and thereafter. For them, Stevenson’s press conference merely confirmed that he was no longer a noncandidate.
At the Biltmore Bowl, then, Stevenson had spoken briefly, praised Mrs. Roosevelt, thanked his supporters, parried some questions, and left with Monroney, accompanied by a few cheers. Several reporters noted that the press conference had enormously disappointed the Stevensonian claque. But the news was that the man had met the press like a real candidate.
Tuesday night at the Sports Arena, it was not hard to get tickets for spectators’ seats in the balcony. The attractions of Los Angeles interested many families and friends of the delegates more than the gallery view for platform planks and a series of window-dressing speeches. So hundreds (but not thousands) of Stevenson demonstrators, many of them simply tired of marching all Tuesday afternoon, filled an empty section upstairs and settled down to watch the show; only in that sense did they “pack” the galleries, which were not full in any case. I underscore this to foreshadow the momentous greeting waiting for Stevenson at the hall. The delegates themselves, rather than “packed” galleries, as some reporters would later allege, would lead the convention in saying, “Hello, Adlai!”
As Chairman Collins was speaking, Stevenson arrived with his friend and supporter Marietta Tree. Garth and Sharon met them at the VIP entrance, and they waited in the corridor by a door to the hall. Mrs. Tree borrowed a delegate’s badge and went inside. A crush of latecomers, by chance, blocked the entrance, so that the next speaker already had ascended to the rostrum when, without plan, prior announcement, or prepared remarks, Stevenson walked onto the floor with Garth and Sharon.
The closest delegations discovered him almost at once and broke into a cannon roar of delight. Then the delegations across the entire convention floor seemed to rise as one to begin a splendid, spontaneous, spectacular adoration. They filled the aisles, laughing, yelling, crying, crazily counterpointed by the orchestra playing an Illinois fight song. They stopped Stevenson dead in his tracks far from his seat. The galleries exploded in the next instant, exaltation following astonishment following recognition of what was going on down below.
Surrounded by swirling marchers, Stevenson seized Garth’s arm and turned to him in disbelief.
“What’s happening, Dave?” he asked. “What’s happening!”
“It’s the people, Governor,” Garth said. “They love you! They want you!”
The demonstration consumed the floor and the galleries for seventeen minutes. It subsided only after Garth and Sharon managed to guide Stevenson through the melee to the rostrum where Collins awaited him. With twenty or so volunteers, I had been watching on television from the press office at Stevenson headquarters downtown. My eyes were filled with tears, and many of the volunteers were weeping and cheering at the same time. Now, we knew, Stevenson had only to speak out! The prize was within his grasp. His strategy had been perfect. Just say you want it, I was thinking. We saw Stevenson pause, taking another blast of resounding affection.
Then, after a few shaky words of greeting, he said: “I am grateful for this tumultuous and moving welcome. After going back and forth through the Biltrnore today, I know who’s going to be the nominee of this convention —the last man to survive.”
Stevenson added a bit more, but nothing could recapture that crowd after such a lame joke. Stevenson’s greatest of opportunities, the hope of our campaign, seemed all but wasted. He had missed it. Who can say why?
YET, THERE WAS still time, and, by itself, the delegates’ unexpected ovation moved the campaign forward. Over the next twenty-four hours it would affect the perception of the convention in all the opposing camps, among the press, and among the public watching on television.
Later that night it provoked an angry comment from Robert Kennedy that Wednesday’s demonstration for his brother’s nomination would make the Stevenson welcome “look like a flurry of feathers.” California caucused and went for Stevenson by one vote, 31.5 to 30.5 for Kennedy. A New York rump meeting talked about trying again for Stevenson. A strategist from the Johnson camp called an aide to Finney to discuss the feasibility of a Stevenson-Johnson ticket. With an oath, Finney told the aide to hang up. Western Union reported itself swamped; it received more than twenty-five thousand wires for Stevenson in the next twenty-four hours. Long-distance calls jammed the switchboard at Stevenson headquarters. Callers wanted to know how to get messages to their state’s delegations. Volunteers carried the phone messages to delegates’ hotels all over Los Angeles County.
Stevenson himself seemed to experience an aftereffect of the great Tuesday-night ovation. He responded warmly to a fired-up midnight crowd of delegates and backers who had asked to meet with him at the Statler West. They left believing Stevenson was going to campaign all night after he had ended his remarks with Robert Frost’s lines: ”… I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. …” William Attwood has recalled that he went up to Stevenson’s suite a few minutes later and “found him already in his pajamas.”
Nevertheless, Wednesday morning, on the day of decision, Stevenson made two key phone calls. He called Richard Daley to ask outright for help from the Illinois delegation. And he called Senator McCarthy to request that he place his name in nomination at the convention that night. Daley ignored Stevenson’s call until late Wednesday afternoon, then refused to help, thereby denying the former Illinois governor support from his own home base. With hindsight, some have said Daley ended the 1960 Stevenson campaign then and there. Rut he didn’t, not quite, because McCarthy had accepted Stevenson’s request.
And meanwhile, at last, many reporters were writing what the campaign press office had been saying all along: Most of the delegates wanted Stevenson; they just could not give him their vote on the first ballot.
By Wednesday noon the press knew that Robert Kennedy had told his workers there could be no second ballot this night, or else. The reason was Stevenson. At our Hill Street headquarters we held in our hands hot copies of two major local evening papers bearing the front-page banner headlines we had been praying for: KENNEDY TIDE EBBS and KENNEDY BANDWAGON FALTERS .
Within hours of that first ballot, the campaign for Stevenson finally had broken through.
Talking to Finney, I joked that, to win, our terrific campaign now only needed the ultimate anti-Kennedy rumor; for example, we could leak that a deal has been made for Lyndon Johnson, the nemesis of Northern liberals supporting Jack Kennedy, to stop Stevenson in exchange for becoming Kennedy’s vice-presidential running mate. Finney laughed. To be effective, he said, a rumor cannot be so outrageous as to be unbelievable.
Moments later I learned that a suicidal young man on the roof ledge of the Biltmore Hotel was threatening to jump. En route to meet with Eugene McCarthy, I detoured across Pershing Square to see, frankly, whether he was one of ours (he was not). The cops rescued him forthwith, and the crowd cheered. I then found myself standing next to my friend Roger Tubby, who had been a White House press secretary in Harry Truman’s last days and was now a political aide in the Kennedy campaign.
“Well, Roger,” I said, “rumor has it that Jack’s decided to put Lyndon on the ticket as Vice-President, you believe that?”
A slope-shouldered, serious man who understood the politics of Northern liberals, Tubby paled and mopped his brow with a folded hanky. It struck me as awesome that he did not seem to be hearing my “rumor” for the first time. He laughed and then I laughed. “If it’s true,” I said, “let’s both go up there and jump off.”
“That’s a deal,” he said.
A Kennedy-Johnson ticket, of course, was already in the works.
WHEN I ARRIVED at the convention, the Stevenson demonstrators outside numbered about three thousand, a great crowd expanding by the minute. I marched with them once around the Sports Arena. Then I went inside to the Stevenson press trailer to wait for Eugene McCarthy. My job was to prepare a press release from an advance copy of his speech, which he was to drop off by midafternoon.
For years I have heard rumors that McCarthy, in the politics of 1960, had been a Johnson wolf in Stevenson sheep’s clothing. John Bartlow Martin, Stevenson’s biographer, speculated in 1977 that “perhaps it was not all pure loyalty” that motivated McCarthy to nominate Stevenson. He cites Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., as one source for the theory he discusses that McCarthy was personally ambitious: a Johnson man who sought to run as Vice-President on Johnson’s ticket, McCarthy spoke for Stevenson to stop Kennedy on Johnson’s behalf, if not behest. But Martin apparently did not solicit McCarthy’s version.
In New York not long ago, Schlesinger restated his “ambition” theory in a talk with me. Schlesinger claims McCarthy was part of Johnson’s strategy. “Johnson saw Stevenson as the only way to stop Kennedy,” he says. “Johnson figured that if Kennedy did not get a first ballot nomination, the delegates, sore at Stevenson, would go to Johnson and then Johnson would take McCarthy, a Northern Irish Catholic on the ticket. So that was why McCarthy got involved.” He also cites Hubert Humphrey, who “felt” that McCarthy had come to Los Angeles for Johnson. “McCarthy made the best speech,” he says. “A cynical man. If the strategy had worked, McCarthy would’ve got both the Stevenson votes and the Irish Catholic votes [for a Johnson-McCarthy ticket]…. The Kennedys had real apprehension that the Johnson strategy might work. ”
McCarthy, with whom I spoke recently in New York, remembered it differently: “Ambition had nothing to do with it,” McCarthy says. “I went to a Washington rally for Stevenson earlier in the year. I was committed to Adlai if he was going to run. I didn’t know until I got to Los Angeles that Adlai was even going to be nominated. I was also asked who I’d choose between Kennedy and Johnson, and I answered, ‘Johnson.’ There never was a ‘Stop Kennedy for Lyndon’ movement. When Arthur [Schlesinger, Jr.] said I did it for Lyndon, that’s sheer nonsense. And some people repeated that when I ran against Lyndon in 1968. There are no grounds whatsoever to say that I was doing it for Lyndon. None of us had Lyndon in mind. Everyone felt he was not possible. The only one who could’ve stopped Kennedy was Adlai.”
McCarthy recalls, too, that he had no illusions about the speech he was making to the convention that day. “I thought Adlai deserved the tribute,” he says. “You could count, though. The Kennedy people were more worried than I would have been. We knew we could not win. I went with Adlai to say good-bye.”
McCarthy’s version persuades me, even discounting my own partisanship. We feared Johnson, not as a contender, but as the leader of a narrow cause threatening our effort to deny Kennedy a first-ballot victory. Even George Reedy, later Johnson’s press secretary, has said that Johnson’s 1960 bid was only “half-hearted.” McCarthy’s preference for Johnson over Kennedy, like Kennedy’s own Johnson connection, may well have been rooted in ambition, but not in self-destruction.
The idea that a Johnson-McCarthy ticket could have emerged from that convention is hopelessly unrealistic; the theory that McCarthy thought it might is absurd. That Stevenson and his advisers, some of whom were in close touch with the Kennedy camp, would have been party to a Johnson strategy is farfetched. That, given the nomination, Johnson or Stevenson would have chosen anyone other than Kennedy as a running mate is inconceivable. And besides, why would any normal, red-blooded, television-conscious Democratic politician in 1960 need an ulterior motive to respond to a personal request for help from Adlai Stevenson?
Wednesday afternoon, McCarthy came early to the Stevenson press trailer. After Stevenson had phoned, a draft of a speech nominating him written by William Attwood had been dropped off at McCarthy’s hotel room. Attwood’s theme was “of not turning aside from Adlai. ” Writing his own draft on hotel stationery, McCarthy worked furiously through the morning and past lunch. The nominations schedule had called for him to speak at three. With an hour to go and still not satisfied with his speech, he left for the Sports Arena. We met here for the first time. A handsome, ham-handed man with pale eyes, he looked tired and yet agitated. Not only Stevenson, but Monroney, Carroll, and Doyle had pressed him to make the speech. They were counting on him.
I told McCarthy we had a breathing spell. The convention was already an hour behind schedule. There was a rules fight going on. With the Kennedy, Johnson, and Symington nominations and demonstrations on the schedule ahead of Stevenson, it looked as though McCarthy would be speaking in prime time.
FINNEY ARRIVED with word from Doyle that there would be no traditional demonstration following McCarthy’s nominating speech because, Finney said, Doyle was afraid any Stevenson demonstration would seem pale not only compared with Tuesday’s, but also compared with the Kennedy demonstration threatened by Robert Kennedy. Further, Doyle hoped a moment of quiet after McCarthy and Mrs. Roosevelt spoke might impress the delegates with the seriousness of their responsibility.
I read McCarthy’s draft. Finney also read it. McCarthy recollects that Finney suggested the “favorite son of the fifty states” idea. Finally I took the hotel papers from McCarthy, had them typed, and returned both the original and the typescript to him. I kept a carbon. McCarthy immediately started reediting the typescript on his knee. Then, after a while, he scooped up both versions and said he would take his seat in the Minnesota delegation to finish rewriting there. He wanted to listen to the other speeches and watch the Kennedy demonstration. For our press release I realized all I would have was his unedited second draft. (That night, as I heard McCarthy soaring, I realized he had made so many changes that the release was virtually useless.) I wished McCarthy luck. He strolled off, still expecting a moment of silence to follow his speech.
Days after the convention, Walter Winchell, then an influential columnist for the New York Daily Mirror , asserted that the amazing Stevenson demonstration touched off by McCarthy’s nominating speech had been financed by James Hoffa, the shadowy Teamster chief, and staged by Dore Schary, production head at MGM studios in Hollywood, and press-agented by me.
Actually David Garth and Tedson Meyers had organized the Stevenson campaign’s last offensive action as another expression of the hope and optimism inspired by Tuesday’s pandemonium when Adlai had arrived to sit with his delegation. Later that Tuesday evening, Tedson Meyers had said to Garth, “David, make us a riot for tomorrow,” and then pitched in with him.
Meyers got the money for an all-girl brass band, banners, streamers, placards and sticks, and the like from a trifle remaining in the treasury of the Associated Stevenson Clubs of California. The Stevenson “snowball” was free.
Garth’s “staging” consisted almost entirely of finding ways to get as many Stevensonians as possible into the galleries and onto the convention floor—not to pack the hall but to offset the expected masses of Kennedy supporters who would be allotted twenty-five hundred tickets by Paul Butler (to seventy-five tickets for the Stevenson campaign, plus fifty for our band).
Pending “go” or “no go” orders from Doyle, Garth collected more than two thousand balcony-seat tickets from the California host committee, other friendly delegates, and Stevenson volunteers wearing Kennedy buttons who had claimed about a third of the Kennedy allotment by repeated trips through the ticket line at the Biltmore. Should the opposing camps fail to fill the rest of the gallery, used tickets would be salvaged in the balcony and redistributed to small Stevenson groups waiting outside and, in turn, those tickets would be salvaged and redistributed again; a capacity crowd was in the party’s interest, which may be why this hoary ruse actually worked.
At the same time, Garth and Meyers plotted access to the convention floor itself. The New Jersey delegation, for example, had invited Stevenson demonstrators to come on the floor for its favorite son, Gov. Robert Meyner, who was holding firm on the first ballot and likely to switch to Stevenson on the second. Stevenson volunteers wearing appropriate buttons would also participate in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Symington demonstrations, then remain in the hall until Stevenson’s moment came. And a private security officer guarding a strategic outer door was found who would exchange his uniform and his post with a Stevenson volunteer; should Meyers call them, about two thousand demonstrators from the ring of marchers outside the Sports Arena would be able to take the floor through this guard’s entrance.
And there was no press agentry, no advance publicity at all. The demonstration was planned in secret; and no one told me when Doyle had decided to go ahead with it.
Finney explained later that the final ruling by the chair that gave Iowa’s vote to Kennedy—uncontested by Johnson’s representative, Sam Rayburn—had finally moved Doyle to unleash Garth and Meyers. The ruling had made it Kennedy-Johnson against Stevenson. Doyle had passed the word about 6:00 P.M. Garth handed out the tickets. Volunteers filled the half-empty gallery. And Meyers lined up the outside marchers for the floor demonstration. Here was the 1960 Stevenson campaign’s last hope: that a titanic demonstration could shake loose enough votes in one or more delegations to offset the Iowa shock and prevent Kennedy from going over the top on the first ballot.
BUT NOW AS THE roll call resumed, the view from my television set did not look favorable. The anchorman was saying what I was thinking; there were still no surprises. A couple of votes had shifted in California, giving Kennedy a majority over Stevenson. (Nixon would carry California in the fall.) Minnesota stayed with Humphrey. And Meyner of New Jersey bravely hung on. He had promised not to throw in the towel unless Kennedy was within 10 votes of victory. Wisconsin raised Kennedy’s total to 748 votes, 13 away from victory. The television showed a hurried conference in the Wyoming delegation, which had two more votes than Kennedy needed. Then an excited man with a twanging voice ended the Stevenson campaign once and for all: “Wyoming casts all fifteen votes for the next President of the United States…”
I felt bitter and depressed, so I had a drink in the next trailer with DeGrazia and Green. Their predictions had been right: Johnson’s vote was 409, Symington’s 86, Stevenson’s 79.5. The usual switches gave Kennedy a final count of 806 votes. Barnett of Mississippi, Humphrey, Meyner, and Smathers of Florida together received 140.5.
We locked up and went to the Stevenson party in “Butler’s pantry” on the mezzanine at the Biltmore. More than a hundred of us crowded into the two little rooms and around the makeshift bar in the hallway. Jim Doyle made a brief, chins-up speech, telling us to “thank one another” for the work we had done. A Kennedy supporter had slipped in, made a wisecrack, and found himself on the losing end of a quick, sharp fight with a frazzled volunteer. Later that night, David Zingg, a writer from New York who had been my assistant press secretary, issued the Stevenson campaign’s last press release. It was one sentence long: “A funny thing happened to us on the way to the nomination.”
THERE WAS THURSDAY to get through. The task of dismantling the headquarters distracted us. Once, while cleaning up odds and ends, we paused at the television to take in the nomination of Lyndon Johnson for Vice-President. Those of us who had joked about it watched the Kennedy liberals’ helpless furor on the convention floor with unashamed glee.
AND THEN there was Friday. At sundown I went to the Los Angeles Coliseum where eighty thousand people were gathered for a monster Democratic party rally. It was the convention’s last act. And as one of the party’s loyal players, Stevenson had agreed to introduce the new star, John F. Kennedy. In a way, the need for Stevenson was only incidental. He was just passing the colors. His words that lovely evening would be little noted nor long remembered. Kennedy was to deliver his own formal presidential nomination acceptance speech and intended to introduce the New Frontier theme of his campaign against Nixon.
Floyd May, an artist and scion of the department-store family, was there too. Perhaps the most dedicated Stevenson volunteer of us all, both a campaign worker and Sports Arena demonstrator, May had hired a high school marching band and a dozen drum majorettes, transported them to the Coliseum in a bus, and held them in readiness under the stadium until Chairman Collins introduced his Adlai. As Stevenson stepped to the microphone, the twelve drum majorettes pranced out of the shadows. They carried a big American flag supplied by Floyd May; it was stretched out flat among them. Behind them came Floyd himself and, behind him, the marching band. Their goal was the speaker’s rostrum, where Floyd wanted to present the flag to Stevenson. Since Floyd had told no one of his plan, there was confusion everywhere. Stevenson supporters in the Coliseum seemed to think the flag-carrying girls were a clever diversion planned by those keen Kennedy people to forestall a final demonstration on behalf of Stevenson. Kennedy supporters seemed to think the Stevenson people were trying to embarrass their hero one more time.
Over the loudspeaker you could hear either Stevenson or Collins whispering, “What’s going on out there?”
If it was Stevenson, it was especially poignant. Through the long campaign he never quite seemed to know what was going on “out there.” Once, years later in New York, he told Garth he felt he had made a mistake and should have listened to Monroney and Finney at the convention. If he had, what might have happened? “I think of him all the time,” says Marietta Tree. “How differently he would have handled our affairs.”
If you had known Floyd May, however, you would have known what was going on just then at the Coliseum. Floyd was madly trying to say good-bye to Adlai. And like the Stevenson campaign of 1960 that he unconsciously symbolized, he was failing to get his message to the man.
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.