BOOK REVIEW By CHRISTOPHER N. BREISETH
The roots of the New Frontier, Great Society
Adlai E. Stevenson II on the world stage
Adlai Stevenson and the World: The Life of Adiai E. Stevenson, John Bartlow Martin, Doubleday and Company, Garden City, N.Y., 1977, 863 pp. (946 pp. with notes and index). $15.00
WE STOOD for several hours in front of the United States Embassy in London on a gray day, July 15, 1965, awaiting the appearance of the casket bearing the remains of Adiai E. Stevenson II, who the day before had dropped dead from a heart attack on a nearby street. It was a nostalgic vigil. My thoughts focused upon the leadership he had exercised since that exhilarating presidential campaign of 1952 when he announced that reason could and should be applied to politics.
Only a few weeks before his death, he had delivered the commencement address at Williams College in Massachusetts where I was then teaching. He received an honorary degree citing his contributions to mankind and wryly noted that he could live for two months on a good introduction. "On that citation," Stevenson confessed, "I can live for the rest of my life."
Such reminiscing is inspired by John Bartlow Martin's Adlai Stevenson and the World, the companion to his earlier volume, Adiai Stevenson of Illinois. Martin's central thesis is that presidential candidate Stevenson in 1956 laid the programmatic foundations for John Kennedy's New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society: medicare, federal aid to education, banning of nuclear testing and the extension of civil rights to all Americans. These were the days of Stevenson's greatest leadership when as the preeminent liberal spokesman he called on Americans to "start our nation moving again." Stevenson inspired a new generation of leaders who moved from his losing efforts in the 1950's to the Democratic administrations of the 1960's.
In addition to the articulation of the issues, including many choice phrases, Stevenson's legacy to Kennedy included George Ball, Willard Wirtz, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Tom Finletter, Newton Minow, Bill Blair and Martin himself. In 1954, Finletter organized a group of talented politicians, lawyers and academics who over a two-year period prepared position papers on domestic and foreign policy which provided the basis for the 1956 campaign. Martin reveals the devotion of this shadow cabinet to the former governor of Illinois and its belief that through him thoughtful men and women could give their best to the nation's future.
Martin analyzes Stevenson's contributions to each national political campaign from 1954 to 1964 and his relationships with the major figures of the Democratic party from Truman to Johnson. His stature as a world leader is demonstrated through his cordial relations with such men as DeGaulle, Nehru, Nkrumah, Tito and Khrushchev. In 1961, DeGaulle told Stevenson what a pleasure it always was to see him, "always so full of life, spirit, ideas and hope. Notice," DeGaulle added, "I did not say full of illusions." During his four-and-a-half years as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Stevenson gave new prestige to the world organization in the eyes of Americans and became the symbol of their new interest in the developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The book builds upon a mass of evidence from family and friends, in addition to the public record, as well as upon Martin's own long association with Stevenson, beginning in Springfield and including collaboration on those speeches which were Stevenson's investment in immortality. The rhythmic inclusion in these pages of Stevenson's private life amidst his public activities and crises makes him amazingly approachable as a human being. His weaknesses and eccentricities are as faithfully delineated as his qualities of greatness.
His letters to and from a host of brilliant women are among the most striking documents in the book. Stevenson's "emotionally promiscuous nature" (the phrase is Agnes Meyer's) led him to reach out to them for affection, support, understanding and intellectual intercourse. They represented as talented a group of women as has ever been drawn to one man in America: Agnes Meyer, Eleanor Roosevelt, Alicia Patterson, Barbara Ward, Evelyn Houston, Jackie Kennedy, Marietta Tree, Jane Dick, Suzie Zurcher, Ruth Field, to name only the most prominent. He once asked his diary, "Why do I always get along best with the wrong people — intellectual men & married women?"
John F. Kennedy was not among Adiai's idolaters. Although during the 1956 Democratic Convention, Stevenson afforded Kennedy the opportunity to place Stevenson's name in nomination and to battle Kefauver in an open fight for the vice presidential nomination, thus giving Kennedy his first national platform, the two men were seldom comfortable with each other. On the personal level, Kennedy could ask a
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mutual friend to urge Stevenson to write Jackie after she lost a baby in 1962 because she was hurt not to have heard personally from him. But politically they were of different generations (Adlai never forgave Jack his age), and they were of different temperaments. Kennedy was focused, Stevenson diffuse. Characteristically, during the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy's primary concern was to force the Soviets to remove the missiles. Stevenson's was to use the crisis to move toward global disarmament, the dominant foreign policy goal of his life.
Kennedy wanted and politically needed Stevenson at the United Nations. Stevenson, who never quite got over feeling that he, rather than Kennedy, ought to have been president, wanted to be JFK's secretary of state. But in failing to declare for Kennedy after the West Virginia primary in 1960, Stevenson destroyed whatever chance he had for that post. Dean Rusk's appointment was more than a bitter pill. It made Ambassador Stevenson subordinate to a relatively unknown secretary of state who took a hard-line, European-centered, cold-war stance which conflicted fundamentally with Stevenson's perspective. When Rusk gained even more influence under Johnson than under Kennedy, Stevenson's frustrations at the U.N. increased.
Martin explores the contrast on the one side between the Europeanist hard liners of the White House and the State Department, from Dean Acheson and Paul Nitze to Rusk, McGeorge Bundy and Walt Rostow (Stevenson thought Rostow"the bloodthirstiest of them all), and the anti-colonialist, disarmanent advocates like Stevenson and Chester Bowles on the other. While Stevenson won cheers throughout the nation during the Cuban missile crisis for his tough "until hell freezes over" speech in the U.N., when he challenged Ambassadore Zorin to say, yes or no, whether there were Soviet missiles in Cuba, the White House chose to under-cut him. Some insider revealed to the press Stevenson's forceful arguments in ths secret strategy sessions for political negotiations with the Soviets rather than military threats to resolve the crisis, including proposals to withdraw from U.S. bases in Turkey in return for the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba. The leak to the press (Bobby Kennedy later indicated it was from Jack) cut short Stevenson's public accolade and served to separate him further from the tough thinkers who triumphed during the missile crisis. It also served to reestablish the image of Stevenson as soft and squishy on issues of national security.
In the eyes of the Kennedy-Johnson insiders, Stevenson lacked what we now call "machismo."" Jack Kennedy shared the rugged, masculine values so perfectly expressed in the military involvement of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. Stevenson distrusted the macho impulse. While he publicly defended military involvements in these countries, privately he pressed for political negotiation rather than military force to resolve such international disputes. He genuinely feared nuclear destruction and was troubled during the last months of his life by nightmares about humanity's being blown up. These were months in which he was publicly defending in the U.N. the Johnson-Rusk-McNamara Vietnam bombing policy, while privately failing to gain their support for Secretary General U Thant's efforts to begin negotiations with Ho Chi Minh. Stevenson told Marietta Tree in 1964 that Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam represented "a quicksand I urged JFK to keep out of in early 1961 and thereby invited the patronizing scorn of'the group.'"
Events have vindicated the foreign policy vision of Adiai Stevenson which was best understood in his time by the women in his life. The fervent faith so many of them had in him and his policies irritated many of his male colleagues, including his old friend George Ball, undersecretary of state and one of the Europeanists, who complained about that "bunch of women" in New York, particularly Barbara Ward, who Ball believed were having an evil influence on Stevenson.
The Adlai Stevenson who comes through John Bartlow Martin's 863 pages of text seems directly in touch with the increasing support in U.S. policy for human rights, political negotiation, arms control, the aspirations of the third world, and recognition of global interdependence rather than national self-sufficiency. He spoke frequently of America's natural affinity for the revolution of rising expectations. His close relationships with delegates from the developing countries gave birth to his reputation as "house mother of the U.N." In 1955, he met privately in South Africa with blacks, then publicly cautioned the white government "about efforts to arrest the progress of a whole race when the rest of the world is moving so rapidly in the other direction."
It says something about the macho values dominating the early 1960's that few men who emerge in this book beyond his immediate staff (Blair, Minow, Wirtz, Martin and friend Bill Benton) seemed to possess that faith in Stevenson's fundamental intellectual, moral and political impulses which so many women friends demonstrated. An exception was Hubert Humphrey who appears in Martin's analysis to have shared Stevenson's views and his instincts on almost every domestic and foreign policy issue and cause from the time of their emergence as national political figures in 1948 until the end of their lives. Each failed to reach the White House. Each was loyal to Lyndon Johnson on the war in Vietnam, against their better judgment and at great political cost. The increasingly shrill demands in 1965 from his fellow eggheads that Stevenson resign his U.N. post rather than support Johnson on Vietnam anticipated the treatment accorded Humphrey from the same source and on the same issue in 1968.
Martin's masterful book led me to reflect on how many of their virtues — which we have come to treasure after their deaths — were regarded as political weaknesses during Adlai's and Hubert's frequent quests for the presidency. Their love of ideas and talk, their utter delight in friendships and lots of them, their reaching out to people around the world, their tenderness, their enthusiasm for living and their faith in the future all seemed to blunt the tough edge we have required of those who make it to the White House.
Stevenson in 1959, at the end of the Eisenhower era he had sought so hard to stir, thought a fitting epitaph might be, "I had disturbed the sleep of my generation." Six years later, a newspaper headlined the death of the "First Gentleman of the World." Hubert Humphrey was also at the Embassy in London on the gray July 15 to bring Adiai Stevenson back home. No face in our crowd showed more grief.
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