Apropos of last week’s Adlai Stevenson analogy blogging, Eric Alterman wants us to note that “the idea that Stevenson was some brave, honorable voice in the wilderness is dangerous nonsense,” and offers the following from his forthcoming book Why We’re Liberals:
Stevenson was a snob, and in many ways, not much of a liberal. He charmed intellectuals with his calls for a commitment to “cold-eyed humility” and a recognition that “our wisdom is imperfect and our capabilities … limited.” Though he might have been a classier fellow than General Eisenhower, bookwise — an ironic egghead after their own hearts — his politics were frequently indistinguishable from the plain-spoken military man. (When following his election loss, a woman tired to soothe his feelings by telling him that he had “educated the country,” Stevenson replied: “Yes, but a lot of people flunked the exam.” Stevenson’s high opinion of his own intellect helped define in the public mind the “effete liberal” stereotype. Yet Stevenson was hardly less committed to the Cold War than Eisenhower, and though he opposed McCarthyism, he had no problem with dismissing teachers for being Party Members or using the Smith Act to prosecute others. In this regard, he epitomized the weak-kneed response of so many liberals to what was among the most significant threats to civil liberties in the history of the republic, and later, the cause of much disillusionment on the part of young leftists with their tut-tutting liberal elders. In keeping with his profile in cowardice, Stevenson also opposed both public housing and what he called “socialized medicine.” He had little sympathy for much of the New Deal and a great deal of trouble making up his mind about the repeal of Taft-Hartley Act. Regarding the great moral and political and political issue for American liberals, civil rights, he was notably AWOL. (In this respect, he was less brave, and less liberal than the much-derided Truman.) Yes, the Kennedys treated Stevenson unconscionably, but Irving Howe aptly termed “Adlaism” to be “Ikeism … with a touch of literacy and intelligence.”
And there you have it, the Alterman Line on Adlai Stevenson. I don’t have a real view on the subject, though I’ll toss this out there as one more reason we shouldn’t let our thinking about the 2008 primary be dominated by analogies to events fifty years ago.