Parsons Decides Stevenson May Have 'Common Touch'
Professors on Politics--IV
Despite the fact that Stevenson is a "conspicuous intellectual" and uses "Harvard words," he may have "the real common touch" according to Talcott Parsons, professor of Sociology.
"Recognizing that Stevenson has a particular appeal to the academic group, I must say I feel personally very comfortable with the picture of him in the White House," Parsons said.
Explaining the appeal of men like Stevenson, Parsons pointed out that there seems to be a tendency for a fairly high proportion of wealthy and cultured people to move toward the political left. He cited Roosevelt, Stetinnius, Acheson, and Harriman--all of whom belong to what he called the "cultivated circle"--as examples of this.
"The tie-up of the Republican party with wealth," he added, "is more a tie-up with readers of the Chicago Tribune than with those of the New York Times.
"If Stevenson doesn't have the common touch, how do you explain his terrific victory in the Illinois gubernatorial election of 1943?" Parsons asked. "You can be sure that he wouldn't have been elected if the party leaders weren't convinced he was a good vote-getter," he added.
Parsons feels, however, that the political success of an intellectual varies with the "junctures and moods of the electorate" and the distinct personality of the man. "It remains to be seen about Stevenson," he added.
Parsons remembers that in the pre-convention stage of the campaign he leaned to Eisenhower, but he had a "pretty immediate favorable reaction to Stevenson's nomination." "He struck me right away as a man of high ideals combined with practical realism."
A number of features of Stevenson's speeches attracted Parsons.
First is his brand of humor, which Parsons thinks appeals to most people in academic circles. He has a hunch that the Republican attack on Stevenson's humor may backfire radically. "It is one of the glories of the American people that they have more of a sense of humor than most nations," he said. "They don't, like a man who can't take a joke, even if it's on himself."
The second feature which he likes in the Illinois governor's speeches is "the striking courage" with which Stevenson has reacted to special interest groups and told them that "he wouldn't be the advocate of their interest unless it was in the national interest."
Parsons is a little skeptical of the traditional political maxim, which he says Eisenhower seems to be following; in order to win elections you have to tell the special interests what they want to hear. "In the long run," he said, "it is difficult to tell whether Stevenson's forth-rightness will be an asset or a liability, but I think he may get away with it."
Thirdly, Parsons likes the "recurrent note of realistic optimism in Stevenson's speeches." He recognizes that Ike also has much of this same "who-says-it-can't be-done attitude," but thinks that Stevenson has it in "purer, more balanced form."
He went on to say that the campaign is especially interesting from his point of view because it pits a "popular hero" against a "semi-unknown political highbrow."
He said Ike seems to have some of the same charismatic quality as General MacArthur. "What they say about the Eisenhower smile is no exaggeration--he does have an infectious attractiveness about him."
But Parsons cautioned that the large throughout the country should not definitely be attributed to a charismatic personality. "Remember that he is a famous man--they turn out to see him just as they used to for Queen Marie of Roumania."