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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Obama Combo

posted by on April 9 at 13:56 PM


The latest pundit meme on Barack Obama is that he’s Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic “Egghead” Presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956. Lost badly.

Obama’s actually more of an egghead than Stevenson, really. Obama graduated from Harvard Law School (and was President of the Harvard Law Review.) While Stevenson graduated from an Ivy League undergrad (Princeton), he actually failed out of Harvard Law.

Anyway, here’s one snippet from Slate:

Obama exhibits other elements of this Stevensonian style as well. It’s a style—an ideology, really—that links the quest for common ground with a language of enlightened reason.

The funny thing about the Stevenson comparison is this: Last February, when Obama-mania was at its height around here, I tried to irk some of my Obama zealot colleagues by wearing a “Stevenson ‘60” pin. (Stevenson tried for the Democratic nomination in ‘60 and lost.)

The point of my Stevenson pin: Back in February, the rap on Obama was that he was the charismatic JFK. JFK, obviously, got the nomination in 1960, beating—among others—Stevenson. It was Kennedy’s charisma vs. Stevenson’s brains. My Clinton as Stevenson message didn’t quite translate—Clinton’s no intellectual, and in fact, Stevenson was a sharp speaker like Obama—but I was trying to riff off the substance vs. hope thing.

Anyhow, now the meme is that Obama is, in fact, Stevenson.

So, he’s both Kennedy and Stevenson?

Shit. The Democrats are doing pretty good.

RSS icon Comments


he's the one the prophecies have foretold!

Posted by Jiberish | April 9, 2008 1:56 PM

Also, Obama has an unsual name. Like Adlai.

Neat-sounding, though...Adlai.

Posted by Abby | April 9, 2008 1:58 PM

This post and the Slate piece are both so totally ridiculous, they barely merit comment. Obama is Obama, Clinton is Clinton, Stevenson and JFK are both dead.

End of story.

Posted by Matthew | April 9, 2008 1:59 PM

please don't start speaking on behalf of democrats. i'm still for hillary bitch.

Posted by emily | April 9, 2008 2:04 PM


Learn to love history.

Posted by Josh Feit | April 9, 2008 2:12 PM

Hillary graduated from Yale Law School and was on the board of the Yale Law Review. Is that not good enough to be an "intellectual" like Obama?

Maybe Hillary would have gotten into Harvard Law instead, but Obama had the advantage of a nice fresh political science degree from Columbia University. Columbia didn't allow women to attend until 1983.

Posted by poppy | April 9, 2008 2:19 PM

This is just getting silly.

Look, just call him President Obama.

For one thing, it's a new century. After the last eight years of continual failure, most of us really don't care, so long as it isn't four more years of Failure with McCain/Bush 08.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 9, 2008 2:20 PM

Perhaps it's worth observing that Stevenson would've won had he not been running against The General Who Won The War. Christ Himself couldn't have beaten Ike.

Posted by Perfect Voter | April 9, 2008 2:24 PM

this is getting so confusing. i thought hillary was the egghead/wonk while obama was just a slick speaker with a nice smile.

just keep the narrative as simple as possible, please. there are too many memes flying around. somebody might get hurt.

Posted by brandon | April 9, 2008 2:25 PM

Ha-ha. Obama = loser! I love it!

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | April 9, 2008 2:44 PM


Posted by meme | April 9, 2008 2:46 PM

defensive much poppy?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 9, 2008 2:47 PM

Will we ever stop speaking of politicians as being the next (insert politician of days past here)? Who did people describe Kennedy as the next incarnation of?

Posted by tsm | April 9, 2008 2:49 PM

Who did people describe Kennedy as the next incarnation of?

the pope.

Posted by SeMe | April 9, 2008 2:51 PM

Well, SeMe, not exactly . . . but pretty close. And that was Pope John, IIRC - not a very likeable guy. Very few tears were wept when he croaked.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | April 9, 2008 2:59 PM

yes, but Obama isn't a closet case, so the comparison doesn't really work.

Posted by michael strangeways | April 9, 2008 3:01 PM

Stevenson didn't lose the '60 election because he was an egghead. He lost because he had been the candidate in two previous cycles and lost both of them. People wanted to try something new. Stevenson, though, was a charismatic, engaging speaker.

Some of my favorite quotes from AES:

"Every age needs men who will redeem the time by living with a vision of the things that are to be."

"Freedom is not an ideal, it is not even a protection, if it means nothing more than the freedom to stagnate. "

"Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. "

Posted by A | April 9, 2008 3:06 PM

Well, E.J. Dionne would have to be in the Obama does-not-equal Stevenson camp, based on this column from what seems like eons ago:

Yet if Clinton's answers come off as well-intended lectures, Obama is offering soaring sermons and generational opportunity. In 1960, the articulate Adlai Stevenson compared his own oratory unfavorably with John F. Kennedy's. "Do you remember," Stevenson said, "that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, 'How well he spoke,' but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, 'Let us march.' " At this hour, Obama is the Democrats' Demosthenes.

Now, I absolutely believe the Republicans are going to try to paint Obama as the epitome of eggheadedness and blackness and secularism and foreignness and all those other "others." They're going to try; they're going to fail; it's going to get really, really ugly.

At some point, even the Republicans are going to learn the hard way that the American people may be stupid, but they're not that stupid.

Posted by cressona | April 9, 2008 3:09 PM

Clearly, history is ready to repeat itself.

Stevenson's wit was legendary. During one of Stevenson's presidential campaigns, allegedly, a supporter told him that he was sure to "get the vote of every thinking man" in the U.S., to which Stevenson is said to have replied, "Thank you, but I need a majority to win."
Posted by RHETT ORACLE | April 9, 2008 3:09 PM
Prior to the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Stevenson announced that he was not seeking the Democratic nomination for president, but would accept a draft. Because he still hoped to be a candidate, Stevenson refused to give the nominating address for relative newcomer John F. Kennedy, which strained relations between the two politicians.

In any event, Stevenson had hoped to be appointed Secretary of State but ended up as Ambassador to the UN. For his intellectual acumen, he was disparagingly referred to as an "egghead" - clearly not an attribute shared by Ike.

Posted by RHETT ORACLE | April 9, 2008 3:20 PM

Someone on the Huffington Post a while back likened Obama not to either Kennedy brother but to California governor Jerry Brown in his 1976 presidential candidate incarnation. He was young, charismatic, and eschewed traditional leftist policies, defining himself instead as the transformative candidate of "new ideas." Sound familiar?

Posted by Jim Demetre | April 9, 2008 3:39 PM

If I'm not mistaken, JFK had his dear daddy Joe Kennedy's influence in addition to his charisma to win the White House.

Posted by raindrop | April 9, 2008 4:31 PM

My favorite Stevenson quote: when asked how he felt when he was accused of being an egghead, he said "Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your yolks."

Two things you can say about such a person: an outstanding mind, and never going to be president.

Posted by Rob | April 9, 2008 4:44 PM

Obama = northern urban liberal=
doesn't win the Reagan Democrats, law 'n' order Democrats, Archie Bunkers, Dogpatch Democrats, etc. you know the ones who swing and decide elections = Humphrey McGovern* Mondale Dukakis Gore* Kerry

*became "urban liberal" after GOP attack ads

= losers.

Posted by unPC | April 9, 2008 5:48 PM

This assumes that a man like Adlai could never ever have been elected president. I say rather that Adlai could not have been elected in 1952 or 1956 or 1960.

1952: The Democrats had been in power for twenty years. The urgency of New Deal reformism had waned as a result of post-war economic improvement. Truman was widely considered a failure, and the U.S. was involved in a military quagmire in Korea. Eisenhower was an American hero with a paternal demeanor that perfectly matched the times. Adlai couldn't win.

1956: Eisenhower was a successful incumbent president, quite moderate and fair minded, who had presided over economic growth and brokered a cease-fire in Korea. Adlai couldn't win.

1960: Adlai had lost the past two general elections. Adlai couldn't win.

2008: President Bush is widely perceived as a failure, the economy is in a downturn verging on a crisis, and the U.S. is stuck in a military quagmire in Iraq. Including Clinton, the United States has experienced 28 years of center-right to far-right administration. The Republican nominee is in favor of upholding the least popular aspects of Bush's policies for the next eight to one hundred years. Obama, the high-minded, center-left reincarnation of Adlai, can win.

Here's a thought: presidential elections are sufficiently infrequent that there aren't enough of them in recent history to form a valid basis for statistical analysis, and in the long term (i.e., over the course of two or three decades) the demographic and cultural shifts in the United States will swamp any meaningful analogies between them.

Posted by All the Way with Adlai | April 9, 2008 7:39 PM

Seconding @6. Saying "Clinton's no intellectual" just proves how wrong-headed this whole analysis is.

Posted by AnonymousCoward | April 9, 2008 10:17 PM

Hillary was on the board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action, a secondary journal for also-rans who couldn't make the prestige journal, the Yale Law Journal.

Is that not good enough to be an "intellectual" like Obama? No. It s a consolation prize for second-raters.

Posted by intellectual snob | April 10, 2008 10:54 AM

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