Adlai Stevenson – Campaign address from Milwaukee, Wisconsin – September 28, 1956 – CBS Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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As we’ve finished the Presidential Election of 2020, amid optimism, questions, confusion and unprecedented behavior, running across this campaign address from another Presidential Campaign; the one from 1956, where the candidates were Adlai Stevenson, running for a second time against the incumbent Dwight Eisenhower, who had won against Stevenson in 1952, were now facing off again four years later. It seems like this version of politics and America never existed or that it is so far in the dim-distant past that it bears no resemblance to the people or the issues of 2020.
But the one thing that was of prime importance in 1956, as it still is in 2020, was education. How America in the 1950s was standing at the threshold of a future of Technology and Science – how discoveries and innovations in Medicine and Information were putting the world on the brink of a new, exciting and crucial period in our culture. But how America was in danger of falling behind other countries who put more value in learning than evidently America had at the time. But how this could be turned around by simply making a commitment to the cause of Education and to the funding of the facilities and upgrading the classrooms to meet that challenge.
No question that Adlai Stevenson was one of the most articulate and intellectual of 20th century political figures – he was derided by critics and opponents as being of the “egghead school”or what we would consider the quintessential Nerd today. That his appeal was to an electorate who also believed that education was crucial to society was most likely at odds with the electorate who lived in fear of nuclear annihilation – but perhaps it boiled down to the appeal of the Warrior President versus the appeal of a potential Philosopher President. The 1950s were strange and unsettling times, much as the times of this second decade of the 2000’s – the people and the virtues are different. On its surface, there was probably more similarity in the messages of Eisenhower and Stevenson and that the differences manifested themselves in the Administration, those cabinet members in key positions who shaped and influenced policy. Many argued Eisenhower was the first of the Symbolic Presidents – that the true machinations of the Eisenhower White House were guided by the presence of the likes of the Dulles Brothers (Allen and John Foster), certainly in Foreign Policy and many others. But then, the Eisenhower Republican no longer exists – and the Stevenson Democrat clings to hope.
But in 1956 the topic was education and our youth and how they were indeed the future of the brave new world.
Here is that address, with introduction by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as it was broadcast on September 28, 1956.