Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wisdom for the Ages from the Ages...Shh, I Think They're Democrats

Adlai E. Stevenson III (ed.) The Black Book of Senator Adlai E. Stevenson, 1939- , Governor Adlai E. Stevenson, 1900-1965, Vice President Adlai E. Stevenson, 1835-1914: American Politics and History as Explained by Five Generations of an American Family.

This book is an edited compilation of advice, witty stories, commentary, etc. collected by generations of Adlai E. Stevensons and their relatives. Much advice stands the test of time. Adlai II’s great great grandfather Jesse Fell was a political advisor to Abraham Lincoln. Fell suggested Lincoln debate Douglas. Adlai III notes how observations made by his grandfather on China resonate still. The book was a useful reference for many Stevenson speeches.

The editor hails the election of Barack Obama as President, not that Obama, like Adlai II, is an intellectual and an idealist.

Politics has changed through the generations. In the 1890s, more people make longer distance journeys to hear speeches by Presidential candidates than does today’s public. Thousands would march in support of the candidates, something little seen today.

Adlai III notes the political corruption that was traditional in the 1870s through the 1920s concerned elections and favors. Yet, political organizations educated voters about ideology and reason. Modern political corruption is more concerned with foreign interests, ideological delusions, and religious fundamentalism misshaping policy. Political policies are today, unlike in the past, more open for sale to corrupt figures.

When Adlai I became Vice President in 1893, his entire staff was a secretary, a stenographer, and a messenger. He walked to his Capitol office.

Patronage used to be an important part of politics. The Illinois Governor could select about 30,000 people to work in patronage positions. Today, “pin stripe patronage” exists on a grander monetary scale with government contracts and Board and agency appointment provided to political supporters.

Adlai II noted that “cleanliness is next to godliness, except in the Illinois legislature, where it is next to impossible.” Adlai II often worked 16 or 17 hour workdays as Governor. As Governor, he doubled funding for education, addressed poor conditions of mental institutions, increased mine safety laws, and created a merit system towards fair employment, and created a merit system for State Police. He had gambling laws enforced. A loyalty oath bill and a bill stating cats should always be leashed were vetoed.

Adlai II was drafted as the Democratic nominee for President at their 1952 National Convention. Dwight Eisenhower told a reporter he wouldn’t have run for President had he known Stevenson would be the nominee. Eisenhower won.

Stevenson lost to Eisenhower again in 1956. Yet many of Stevenson’s policies set the foundation for what would become President John Kennedy’s policies.

Chicago politics used machine organizations and patronage. When an Alderman once accused another Alderman and Democratic Committeeman Paddy Bauler of being a thief, Bauler responded, “Yeah, and the only difference between us is I admit it.”

Political workers could tell my how long voters took to vote and how their feet shifted in polling booths as to whether or not they were voting for the straight Democratic ticket. Voters who didn’t vote straight Democratic would be visited by plumbing marshal, fire marshals, and electrical inspectors and cited for ordinance violations.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley asked Adlai III to run for the State House. He wanted the Stevenson name on the ticket. Then, 177 House seats were elected at large. Both political parties chose 118 names. The Republicans ran Earl Eisenhower, Dwight’s brother, on their ticket. Stevenson outpolled Eisenhower, though both won.

As a state legislator, Adlai III worked for lobbying reform and legislation disallowing conflicts of interest, yet these bills died in the Senate. He was how legislators were given an “idiot sheet” for legislative leadership telling them how to vote on that day’s legislative votes. Secretary of State and former House Speaker Paul Powell died. $800,000 cash was discovered in his shoe boxes. Adlai II quipped “his shoe boxes will be hard to fill.”

Daley asked Adlai III to run for State Treasurer to help the Democratic ticket appeal to independent voters. Adlai III had won the Independent Voters Award as Outstanding Legislator. Stevenson was elected.

Adlai III was elected U.S. Senator in 1970. Karl Rove was an advisor to his Republican opponent. The Republicans called Stevenson a “radilib” for opposing the Vietnam War and for speaking out against police abuses against war protestors.

Adlai III ran as a favorite son for President in the 1976 Illinois Primary. Daley and he later released the delegates pledged to Stevenson to vote for Jimmy Carter, which helped Carter win the nomination.

Adlai II notes that, from the Chinese perspective, their view of the United States is one of a unilateral military aggressor with 364,000 troops in 130 countries and responsible for almost half of all arms exports. The U.S. has sought over 40 times since 1945 to overthrow a nation’s government and done so with mines, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and tactics leading to many civilian deaths. Adlai III notes China has much government corruption and much poverty. He urges the U.S. to spread concepts of human rights and freedom by being a good example.

The book contains many interesting stories, including how an Illinois legislator pledged a vote to a lobbyist and then voted contrary. The legislator explained to the lobbyist that “I didn’t know you wanted an all day commitment.”

It is noted that “economic sanctions are a form of warfare…Sanctions typically impoverish and demoralize innocent people, especially the most vulnerable.”

The book warns the U.S. faces many of the same conditions that led to the historical decline of other countries. The U.S. has economically overreached in foreign affairs. The U.S. has moved from a creditor to a debtor nation with little will to either raise taxes or cut public spending.


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