It seems ironic in some ways and prophetic in others to listen to this address from Former Illinois Governor and two-time Presidential Candidate Adlai Stevenson, on this day in 1954. Delivering this speech at a dinner for the Florida DNC, Stevenson lashes out at the then-current state of affairs in politics – innuendo, slander and outright fabrication of facts.
Sound familiar? In 1954 we were right in the middle of the infamous Red Scare, and those people who promised to “clean house” and “drain the swamp” were overreaching and creating an atmosphere of anger and resentment and a general condemnation of what was described as “divisive tactics” and false information appearing to be real. The end result was a level of fear and distrust spreading throughout Washington and in fact the rest of the country, that had literally no precedent.
Many feared this Red Scare would bring the country down, or turn it into a Fascist state – many also felt the divisions between Americans were so deep, they ran the risk of never being repaired.
It has been difficult to draw comparisons to what our country is going through now and what it had gone through in politics before. In many ways, we’re in uncharted waters – but in the 1950s, when faced with similar issues, we became alarmed and either protested or fled into the shadows of anonymity out of fear of being caught up in a web of slander and innuendo.
In the 1950s it wasn’t about a President, but a Senator who had achieved a level of power through intimidation, slander and fabrication, who was riding a wave of fear and paranoia that our country was under attack, that it was being infiltrated by operatives from Moscow and that corruption was rife.
But in the 1950s we had voices of eloquence and reason and a Press that stood for integrity and truth. Perhaps we were more gullible then, but at least we were armed with facts and voices not afraid to call it out for what it was.
And as a reminder of that – here is an address by Adlai Stevenson, given on March 6, 1954.