Unless you’re a history buff, or are old enough to remember either the 1952 or 1956 Presidential election, or his famous showdown with Russia’s Ambassador Zorin at the United Nations during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the name Adlai Stevenson may mean very little or nothing to you.
And that’s a shame because Adlai Stevenson was regarded as one of the most eloquent examples of what Democracy was capable of in times of great uncertainty. That he was so well-spoken and articulate often made him the butt of jokes and derisive comments that he appealed to the “egghead’ segment of American society and that he had no appeal to the anti-intellectual.
It also didn’t help that he twice ran unsuccessfully against a celebrated and highly regarded figure of World War 2; a hero to many and the tough-minded answer to fears of Communist influence in America during the Red Scare days of the 1950s. Running against the former General Eisenhower was a very tough battle, even among those supporting Stevenson for President. We were faced with two choices; the Philosopher President or the Warrior President – America wanted Eisenhower. And with Eisenhower came eventual fears, even from himself, of a rise of the Military-Industrial complex – a man who knew war firsthand and was aware of the sacrifices it entailed. And maybe a country coming out of a major World War, and stuck (in 1952) in the middle of another War (Korea), was looking for leadership from the warrior rather than the philosopher to solve its seemingly endless problem. But a White House with either in power would pose different sets of problems during those tumultuous times. Eisenhower viewed the Presidency as more-or-less an extension of a Military commitment; the President as General, giving orders, leading troops. The fine art of politicking as well as the negotiation and persuasion needed for success were not Eisenhower’s strong points – and his lack of political savvy caused frustration for many of those around him. Stevenson, many felt, would have made too many concessions, would have been very slow to react to the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, and potentially keep us in Korea, and maybe put us in Vietnam sooner – it was hard to tell and a Stevenson White House could have been vastly different than the Eisenhower White House. But those were concerns of a nation in fear and a nation in competition with the Soviet Union. We were insecure, fearful and wanting strong leadership. Whether Eisenhower was the right choice in the grand scheme of things is impossible to know – the road not taken is simply the road unknown and speculation would only be frustrating.
But as a reminder of the power and eloquence of Adlai Stevenson, and why he remained on the political stage right up until his death in 1965, here is one of numerous addresses he gave during his career. This one having to do with the future of the Democratic Party after the 1952 defeat. It was given on February 14, 1953 – 65 years ago.
And if nothing else, it’s just nice to hear an articulate voice from an adult every now and then – to let us know we are better than a lot of things.