In his Nov. 15 op-ed piece ["Madly for Bradley"], Michael Waldman purports to belittle Bill Bradley by comparing him with Adlai Stevenson II. Without taking or implying any position regarding current presidential candidates, we want to straighten out at least a little of Waldman's comments about Stevenson.
Waldman's opening statement is that Stevenson, being "rejected by the electorate again and again," became the "hero for a generation of doomed idealists." Waldman handles facts with artful selectivity. Stevenson's election losses were to an opponent, Dwight Eisenhower, who could not conceivably have been defeated. In a preceding gubernatorial election in Illinois, Stevenson won by the largest margin, about half a million votes, in that state's history.
Waldman reports next that Stevenson "appealed by seeming unusually authentic." If a pun may be invoked to lighten what is ludicrous, Waldman's sole support for this broadside is his reference to a photographer's getting a picture of the 1952 Democratic candidate sitting on a public platform with a hole in his shoe.
The revisionist commentator then reports that Stevenson "made a great effort to build the myth that he wrote his eloquent speeches without outside help." Having watched the governor write many of those speeches, we never once heard him claim that he had no help on what were sometimes 10 to 15 speeches a day.
What we do remember is standing in the outer office as he labored over the speeches while key supporters, campaign contributors and an impatient press waited outside the door.
Regarding the unsupported pronouncement that "some of the Stevenson allure was simple snob appeal," we question Waldman's qualifications for this kind of judgment.
Waldman reports that Robert Kennedy, after traveling with Stevenson during the 1956 campaign, voted for Eisenhower. We were on that same campaign trail. Bobby Kennedy (also a valued friend of ours) disliked Adlai Stevenson for one reason: Kennedy had at the opening stage in his political life supported Joseph McCarthy, and Adlai Stevenson was one of the few political candidates who had the courage to criticize the Wisconsin senator openly and severely.
Waldman's ultimate hit and run is that "Stevenson's legacy is not so much a set of policies as a pose." The full response to this was in The Post's editorial of July 15, 1965, the day after Ambassador (to the United Nations) Stevenson's death:
"Adlai Stevenson . . . was a man of great warmth and spirit and largeness of heart in an era marked by cold calculation and selfishness . . . he was a man of humility in a season when those with more occasion to have it possessed none of it. . . . [H]e was idolized by millions of Americans, respected by more and looked upon abroad as an embodiment of the best democratic impulses and values of American life."
It is sad to see your op-ed page misused 34 years later for what appears to be emerging as the Waldman kind of political irresponsibility and meanness.
--Willard Wirtz and William McC. Blair Jr.
Willard Wirtz, a former U.S. secretary of labor, and William McC. Blair Jr, a former ambassador to Denmark and the Philippines, were law partners and political associates of Adlai Stevenson II.