Friday, November 9, 2007


He’s reminding me of Adlai Stevenson, who, when I was a kid, was the Democrats nominee against Eisenhower.

I dug Stevenson, and not only because my old man was a functionary in the Essex County Democratic machine, but because I was a smart kid and Stevenson seemed like the smartest guy out there in politics to me at the time.

But he was up against a genuine hero, who was packaged smartly and a campaign to denigrate Stevenson’s intellectual image.

The Republicans, even then, were so good at that kind of stuff, it worked.

Both Stevenson and Ike were bald, but Stevenson had wisps of dark hair above his ears that gave his dome a more egg-like shape, and a less masculine image. Ike’s hair was gray, where he had any, and buzzed enough to give him the appearance of a completely shaven head, ala the genies in old Hollywood movies and cartoons, or men old enough to be your grandfather.

When you coupled that with his smile, which all the campaign photos did, he seemed not only benevolent and harmless, i.e. not scary, but also familiar and friendly and familial. That could’ve left him seeming too nice for the fear-filled early Cold War years of the 1950s, but behind the grandfatherly smile was the hero who won the Second World War, which nobody was allowed to forget, if they even could.

Meanwhile, Stevenson was talking about policy and liberal ideals and often complicated and deeply intellectual considerations to be made in such troubled times. But there was no image created to convey what made him familiar or friendly or familial.

It was in the interest of working people to vote for him, because he represented more their interests, as Democratic candidates almost always do, but a lot of those working people were veterans or families of veterans who often revered Ike as the man who defeated Hitler and ended the war. Maybe they thought he could do the same in the Korean conflict, which wasn’t going so well.

If Stevenson’s professorial air didn’t put those people off, the Republican campaign to depict him as an aloof, out-of-touch-with-the-common-man “egghead” did. Is it a coincidence that the term “ivory tower intellectual” became one of the major epithets in public discourse at the time, or the more common term “egghead” that even kids in my Catholic grammar school would use as a perjorative against anyone smarter than them?

One of the hit songs of that time was Frankie Lyman and The Teenagers singing “I’m Not a Know it All” (“don’t know why the trees are tall, don’t know why there’s morning dew, I only know that I love you…”) and Jo Stafford’s pop hit “Come down, come down, from your ivory tower.” I forget what the title of that tune was, but the lyrics made it clear that ivory tower intellectuals were unfeeling.

Stevenson was obviously a compassionate and highly intelligent man. But what the Republicans projected onto him, the public bought to a large extent, as they did the same for Ike. In fact, Ike was known for his incredible temper, while Stevenson was known for his gracious and often bemused tact and diplomacy, as well as kindness.

But if Obama were to somehow miraculously overcome Hilary’s momentum and end up the nominee in a race against Guilliani, it might look a lot like the Stevenson-Esienhower contest.

Rudy would be cast as the 9/11 hero, with the friendly smile and honestly masculine bald dome (despite his cross dressing tendencies and equally renowned temper, etc.) who is tough enough to defeat our enemies but warm and friendly enough to beam a toothy smile at the camera and wear a dress as a bravely funny party gesture.

Obama would be cast as the aloof professor, out of touch with the realities of the common man, which oddly enough could work among both black and white voters, since many whites could interpret that projection through their latent or blatant racism without having to feel like they were letting race determine the issue, and many blacks could do it through a filter of class and racial background gradation (and how “black” or “white” your African-American characteristics are).

In an odd way, a similar thing is already happening in the contest between Barak and Hilary, where she is cast as the more macho one, in terms of supporting the military and extreme defensive measures for national security etc., as well as seen as one of the heroes of the Clinton era who kept the forces of whatever evils plagued us then at bay, helping to preside over one of the longest periods of peace and prosperity, as well as government surpluses, in our history.

I don’t think there’s any way now to reverse those images, as they are becoming more and more set with each debate and the subsequent media frenzy to capitalize on any and all perceived differences in their stances and images.

If it does, as they are now predicting, come down to Rudy vs. Hilary, then Hilary will be cast as the aloof, unfeeling, out of touch with the realities of the common person’s life intellectual, and Rudy as the smiling tough guy, the hero with a heart and the common touch.

Either way, the Democrats are going to have to do a much better job at what the Republicans have been doing well since Ike, i.e. creating the terms and images on which the contest will be determined.


james.d.mckenna said...

Hi Mike,
I thought I would check in one year after you celebrated the election of San Fran Nan as Speaker of the House. It is hard to believe that any politician could poll lower than Pres. Bush but she and Dingy Harry have succeeded. Luckily for the country that has been about their only success. It should be an interesting political year. The Democrat Party is renewing their bona fides of high taxation, socialzed medicine, weak national security. Hopefully the nominees will have meaningful debates like Sarkozy and the French socialist lady did. A series of debates with little interference from moderators should demonstrate the clear choices America has. If the Democrat party was still the party FDR, Give'm Hell Harry and JFK, we conservatives would not have a chance. However, since the Democrats draw their core strength from the "Hate American First Crowd" it could be a real fun political year.

I hope all is well with you.
Jim McKenna

Lally said...

I guess if you're not screwing "America" while stealing her blind, you must hate her. Is that your reasoning there old buddy?

Phillipa said...

I've been following Barak Obama since his elequent 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address. His message of hope positioned him as a fresh, strong leader in the Democratic party, as well as a viable alternative to Hillary as an electable Presidential Democratic candidate.

It is for this very reason, that I've been following his voting record- and Hillary's voting record, very closly. In my book, actions speak louder than words.

Unfortunately, both Obama and Clinton DID NOT vote on PN 958: Michael B. Mukasey , of New York, to be Attorney General.

Too busy campaining, no doubt.

Mukasay won his appointment by a very slim margin. Now Mukasay, a man that cannot bring himself to answer a direct question regarding whether or not he views waterboarding as torture will be our new Attorney General.

What an improvement.

And what a disappointment. As a lifelong Democrat rapidly leaning towards being an Independent, I can say without reservation- IMHO, Stevenson, Clinton and Obama are not in the same league.

AlamedaTom said...

Lal... Very cogent post.

It made me remember something you and others may have forgotten. Stevenson was U.N. Ambassador during the Cuban Missile crisis, as wonderfully portrayed by Ralph Bellamy in THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER (1974). Even though Missiles was made for TV, it ranks far above the 2000 effort, THIRTEEN DAYS with Bruce Greenwood as JFK, Costner as Kenny O'Donnell, and Michael Fairman as Stevenson.

Talk about having the right guy in the right place at the right time, Stevenson was it. That, as opposed to all the hacks Bush appoints who have no aptitude, let alone any gravitas. "Yer doin' a heck-uva job Brownie!"



james.d.mckenna said...

"I guess if you're not screwing "America" while stealing her blind, you must hate her. Is that your reasoning there old buddy?"
Is that it Mike? You obviously are not attempting to overwhelm me with logic. I think Sr. Jema would object to your wording. A conservative can only hope that the Democrat nominee will use your thinking in the campaign.

By the way, judging from your picture, you are not looking any younger. Unfortuanately, neither am I.

james.d.mckenna said...

Yea Mukasy! Yea water boarding with Presidential oversight. It did not take long for that creep Kalid Sheik Mohamud, who planned 9/11 to break. Who would have predicted on 9/12/2001 that we would not have had a major attack from Islamofascists in the good old US Of A. I hope our presidents will continue to have this option to use on enemy combatants and homicide bombers who relish the thought of killing American women, children and seasoned men like myself.

In 1864 Mr. Lincoln was in serious electorial trouble. The Irish had had draft riots in NYC. Union troops fired on them. Grant was leading troops to slaughter. Lincoln had to arrest and hold without trial American citizens , including congressmen. In short, his popularity was in the crapper. Sherman's taking of Atlanta that summer gave the union cause hope and saved Mr. Lincoln's presidency and the union itself.

Harry Truman was about the most unpopular man in American in 1953. America was holding him responsible for what many thought was an unnecessary war in Korea. He also dropped the bomb that killed hundreds of thousands thus avoiding an invasion, saving millions of Japanese and Americas.

Today, we have an unpopular president who is leading a war in the middle east against people who ultimately want to establish shariah law throughout the world. Wouldn't it just piss you off, if history treated George Bush , the bumbling idiot, who can not string proper sentences together, but who won three elections in a row against the best the Democrats had to offer, as a great president.
(note; pls check above sentence for syntax)

Phillipa said...

With regard to the question "Who would have predicted on 9/12/2001 that we would not have had a major attack from Islamofascists in the good old US Of A."

I suggest reading the 9/11 Commission Report. The Commission was, as I remember, headed by Tom Kean (a Republican) and was bi-partisan.

In addition, quoted below are two articles that state POINTS OF FACT regarding your question:

Published: May 16, 2002
The White House said tonight that President Bush had been warned by American intelligence agencies in early August that Osama bin Laden was seeking to hijack aircraft but that the warnings did not contemplate the possibility that the hijackers would turn the planes into guided missiles for a terrorist attack.

''It is widely known that we had information that bin Laden wanted to attack the United States or United States interests abroad,'' Ari Fleischer, the president's press secretary, said this evening. ''The president was also provided information about bin Laden wanting to engage in hijacking in the traditional pre-9/11 sense, not for the use of suicide bombing, not for the use of an airplane as a missile.''

FORT HOOD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush said Sunday that an intelligence memo he read shortly before September 11, 2001, contained no "actionable intelligence" that would have helped him to try to prevent the 9/11 attacks.

"The (August 6, 2001, memo) was no indication of a terrorist threat," Bush said during an Easter Sunday visit to Fort Hood to decorate wounded soldiers.

"There was not a time and place of an attack. It said Osama bin Laden had designs on America. Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to."

But a member of the independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks said Sunday the memo -- the president's daily briefing, or PDB -- should have alerted Bush to the strong possibility of such an attack.

Richard Ben-Veniste the memo and other reports and incidents made up a "substantial body of information" about Osama bin Laden's possible plans.

The briefing was headlined, "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US."

james.d.mckenna said...

We are still blessfully attack free. I don't think reports accompllished that. Congress pursuing their right to investigate the executive branch did not accomplish that. It is within the realm of possibility that vigorous exective lead offense aainst folks who wish to kill us accomplished that.