Sadly for Adlai

"Madly for Adlai," proclaimed the campaign buttons in 1952. But Adlai Ewing Stevenson II wasn't the kind of politician who aroused mad affections, or, for that matter, hostilities. He was a Stevenson. Passion isn't the Stevenson thing; service is—service conducted with objectivity and a certain fidelity to the public weal. Jean Baker, professor of history at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, performs service higher than she may have imagined when she undertook this detailed examination of a major American political family. She produces tears of nostalgia and little quivers of affection for a time when dignity and politics lived peaceably beneath the same roof. To read this book is to realize anew how noxious and disgusting the political profession has become.

In Adlai Stevenson there was so little of raw ambition that it shocks. True, he confessed himself the victim of "a bad case of hereditary politics," but this was only around the time he was considering a race for the governorship of Illinois, at the age of 47. Earlier, he had contemplated a race for the U.S. Senate, but lacked the drive to undertake it. There was always a tentativeness to the way the Stevensons sought political office. The first Adlai Ewing Stevenson—grandfather of the 20th-century presidential candidate—was surprised, the author writes, to achieve national prominence. He lacked strong belief in his own abilities,...

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