Eugene McCarthy’s 1960 Nomination Speech for Adlai Stevenson Presages Draft-Gore 2008

Originally posted by esperanto41 on 12/18/06

[Re-posted from my first Daily Kos diary, 2006-05-30.]

One of the greatest speeches I ever heard was by Senator Eugene McCarthy
nominating Adlai Stevenson at the July 1960 Democratic National Convention.
(I was an 18-year-old foot soldier in the draft-Stevenson campaign, because
he was more the “peace” candidate as compared to saber-rattling JFK.)

The recent buzz about drafting Al Gore for president in 2008, as likened
to Nixon’s 1960 > 1968 comeback, brought to mind another 1960 comparison:
Stevenson’s reluctance to run that year after prior losses to Ike. And some
of Gene McCarthy’s 1960 themes now re-echo in my mind.

I could not find a Web version of McCarthy’s oration, so I am posting a jpeg of the New York Times’ text.  (1960-07-14, p. 16.)  I should have just re-typed it; doing a paste-up and scan of the clipping was quite a job.
  (cont. below)

Of course, the print version doesn’t have 1/100th of the original’s oomph;
you’d have to have been hearing it real-time to know the thunderclap of McCarthy’s
challenge, “let this go to a second ballot”! And all his other punchlines.

While in retrospect a lot of the speech is but poetic rhetoric, a couple of passages remained with me from then till now:

And I say to you that the time has come to raise again the cry of the ancient prophet. And what did he say? He said the prophets prophesy falsely. And the high priests, he said, rule by their words. And my people love to have it so. But what will be the end thereof?

(At the time, I had to look up just who that prophet was: it’s Jeremiah.)

I say to you the political prophets have prophesied falsely in these eight years. And the high priests of Government have ruled by that false prophecy. And the people seemed to have loved it so.

But there was one man–there was one man who did not prophesy falsely…

(Fast forward to McCarthy himself, ’68; or Gore ’08…)

And then there was this, uttered in context of JFK’s ruthless quest for the presidency and Adlai’s reticence:

power often comes to those who seek it. But history does not prove that power is always well used by those who seek it.

On the contrary, the whole history of democratic politics is to this end, that power is best exercised by those who are sought out by the people…

I suspect that’s more a poetic truth than a constant one, but it’s worth
keeping in mind. (When McCarthy himself was chided for his post-’68 presidential
campaigns, he responded that he was “willing” to be president, not that he
“wanted” to be.)

Now that Gore is no longer seeking power, he certainly merits a draft.


For a recent appraisal, see David Kusnet,”McCarthy’s Brilliant, Prophetic,
Problematic Speech”, New Republic Online, 2005-12-12. (Google’s link works,
but not if copied to here.)

Update note 2006-12-19: Kucinich is my kind of candidate, but Gore and/or Obama are OK by me. Just as in 1960, I’d have preferred (the pre-LBJ) Hubert Humphrey, but was happy to work toward a “realistic” ticket of Adlai + JFK.

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