Friday, February 5, 2010

Honoring Stevenson II in Ill.

Part of it was rhetoric. Part of it was pure idealism that didn’t reflect reality.

After all, Adlai E. Stevenson II was a man who got his start in politics because of his ability to make amends with the Chicago Machine of old (when the local officials weren’t the least bit ashamed of what they did in the name of “the people’s business”). He wouldn’t have had that term as Illinois governor (1949-53) without the support of Jake Arvey and Chicago ward organizations helping to turn out the vote for their own self-interests (he made them look good by association, without them having to do anything good in return).

BUT THERE ARE people of a certain generation to whom the name “Stevenson” stands for a willingness to think big and work toward the betterment of our society. Heck, there are those who consider the Barack Obama of 2008 to be a mere “copy” of Adlai – losing something when compared to the “original.”

Of course, there also are those who will want to merely think of Adlai II as the guy who twice got beat by Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns. Political partisanship will always be with us.

Yet the fact remains that even now, some 45 years after his death, Stevenson remains a figure still remembered by many. How many people seriously remember either who preceded or succeeded Stevenson in his role as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations – a post where he served an integral role in helping the United States “stare down” the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

So perhaps it is all the more appropriate that beginning Friday we now have “Adlai E. Stevenson Day” in Illinois – which this year is the 110th anniversary of his birth.

IT’S NOT AN official state holiday. Nobody gets the day off from work or school. But now we get a moment to reflect upon a prominent official who, like Abraham Lincoln (whose own birthday Feb. 12 is coming up soon), may have been born elsewhere, but lived a signficant chunk of his life in our fair state.

Stevenson II (the grandfather for whom he was named was himself a U.S. vice president) was born Feb. 5, 1900 in Los Angeles, but was raised with the rest of the family in their historic home in Bloomington, Ill., although his adult life when not serving in political posts was spent at the family “estate” in what was then rural Lake County (now very much suburban and congested Libertyville).

Despite his association with the Chicago Democratic organization of old, he himself was never hit by scandal (unless you want to assume decades-old morals and think it outrageous that he was a divorced man). That ultimately is an accomplishment, in and of itself.

Which is why I got my kick out of a story published recently by the Pioneer Press newspapers in the northern suburbs (,lincolnshire-stevensonday-020210-s1.article) telling of the new Stevenson Day.

OFFICIALS IN LINCOLNSHIRE (located next to Libertyville) named their then “new” high school for Stevenson, despite objections from some because he was still alive. It was only when he died during the development process that the idea of honoring Adlai took hold.

What was their objection to Adlai at the time?

As reported by the Lincolnshire Review newspaper, it was that some officials feared that he would become involved in a scandal late in life that would besmirch the school’s reputation. His death brought an end to that possibility.

It might be a very real concern in Illinois (this is a warning to anyone so eager to name anything for Obama). But it didn’t happen. It still hasn’t. Stevenson has that squeaky clean reputation that time has scrubbed so much that we now are tempted to think of him as a political saint, rather than a one-time living, breathing human being.

IF ANYTHING, STEVENSON set an example that a politician could be human as well as have some idealism to him. For those who look at the lists of elected officials who later were carted off to prison and want to assume that politics corrupts, I’d disagree.

Some people are just more taintable than others. Today, we celebrate someone who got through a political life without the taint.


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