"Trying to identify him with one word or two is impossible," says one reporter who has followed Allard K. Lowenstein for a long time.
"New York lawyer? Well, he was born there and lives there now, but he's about as well-known at Stanford or in Mississippi as in the City. Professor? He only teaches one course a week now, though he taught a few more courses when he was at North Carolina State a few years ago. You can't really call him a politician completely either. He is unique."
No one who knows Allard K. Lowenstein is indifferent to him, at least not for very long.
"I've seen him operate . . . I'm suspicious of him, though I can't prove anything about the CIA connections you keep hearing about him," said Martin Peretz, the left-liberal Harvard instructor who has known Lowenstein for many years.
One Harvard student put it differently. "Lowenstein is a politician; he's just too smooth. I don't like it." There are many who do.
The Reverend William Sloan Coffin, the Yale chaplain, said, "he's incredibly articulate. He sees what a guy is interested in, lets him talk, and then takes what the guy just said and artfully turns it around to tie in with what he [Lowenstein] is trying to prove . . . it could be a terrible talent in the hands of a demagogue."
Floyd B. McKissick, the CORE leader and an old college friend of Lowenstein's, calls it "relevancy." Barney Frank '62, Mayor Kevin White's administrative assistant, calls Lowenstein's style "political practicality." Newsweek recently dubbed him "John the Baptist," the Saint who prepared the way for Senator Eugene J. McCarthy's presidential candidacy.
However his style of political persuasion is described, Lowenstein is now credited with being the prime mover in the Dump-Johnson-and-replace-him-with-McCarthy movement. He started it early last August while most of his liberal Democratic cohorts were either promoting General James M. Gavin or talking of starting a third party led by King, Galbraith or Gavin. The early September debacle at the National Conference for a New Politics in Chicago killed the third party movement. With declining hopes in the Republican Party and the total failure of the Draft Bobby Kennedy movement, Lowenstein's idea of defeating President Johnson within the Democratic Party gained more credibility while he was away on a September trip to Vietnam to observe the elections as a private citizen.
Gavin, Kennedy, and Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.), and McCarthy were all visited by Lowenstein after his mid-September return from Southeast Asia. He was reportedly rebuffed by Gavin and Kennedy; he realized that McGovern, who is facing a hard fight for re-election to the Senate in 1968, could not possibly do it. Adamant in his search for an anti-war candidate, Lowenstein focused on persuading McCarthy, who was already deeply disturbed about LBJ and the War, to run. By mid-October, when Lowenstein visited Harvard in one of his frequent ten-state barnstorming tours, he was promising audiences that he had a candidate "of great prominence" who would announce his candidacy before Christmas. Many thought his optimism groundless. "Be patient," he cautioned them with a confident smile.
Since McCarthy began campaigning, Lowenstein has been plugging even harder to mold together "dissident" and "concerned" Democrats into a national McCarthy for President organization. Jetting cross country several times weekly, handling four phone calls simultaneously, and making an appearance on "Meet the Press" keep Lowenstein busy.
This isn't the first time Lowenstein has played the role of the man "ahead of his times." On civil rights, South Africa, and student power he was one of the pioneers in bringing his practical political style to bear. The Kennedys and the McCarthys later followed his trail markers leading to new liberal outposts. New York writer Jack Newfield likes to think of his fellow Manhattan Reform Democrat as "the last and best liberal, one who always goes into revolutionary situations, but yet always stays a liberal."
Lowenstein at 38 looks more like a Jewish New York lawyer than John the Baptist. Of average height with thick black glasses and short black hair, Lowenstein now usually dresses in a slightly rumpled business suit. Before his marriage a little more than a year ago, it wasn't unusual to see him conducting meetings with college students in a white T-shirt and an old pair of chinos.
Brought up on Manhttan's West Side, the son of a successful New York restaurateur, he never had to worry about money. He was one of those teen-age prodigies who always seem to pop up at Harvard or Yale.