Lowenstein: The Making of a Liberal 1968
Catalyst for McCarthy
"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.
He graduated from New York's rigorous Horace Mann School at 16 with varsity letters in wrestling and football while also editing the school newspaper. The Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina became the next stop. University President Frank Graham remembers Lowenstein's reorganization of the student government which allowed Negroes like Flody McKissick, for the first time, to be elected to the student council; it made the young New York boy's name one of the best known on campus.
The campus politician was asked by Graham, who had just been appointed to fill a vacancy as U.S. Senator from North Carolina, to be his legislative assistant after his graduation in 1949 at the age of 20. Lowenstein remembers coming into contact with another freshman Democratic Senator during the fall of 1949, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The Senate office behind, Lowenstein was elected president of the National Student Association (NSA) during the summer of 1951. Ivanhoe Donelson, a former SNCC leader, and others in the New Lelt relate his NSA presidency with his involvement as an observer of the Dominican Republic elections of 1965. The unexpected election of conservative Balaguer aroused Leftist cries of a fixed election. The observers, led by Norman Thomas, reported that the elections were reasonably fair. As a consequence Lowenstein is still accused of being a CIA agent. As far as can be determined Lowenstein wasn't offered money from the CIA, nor was any offered the NSA while he was preisdent. Former NSA officials as well as CIA officials insist that the CIA financing of the NSA began after Lowenstein's one year term. Lowenstein denies any connection with the CIA.
Lowenstein next went to the Ivy League. He spent three years as a middle-of-the-class student at Yale Law School while wrestling throughout Connecticut and politicking across the country for the first time.
One afternoon during Lowenstein's first year at Law School, Adlai Stevenson telephoned him and asked him to come to a campaign pow-wow in Springfield, Illinois. There he was named chairman of the National Students for Stevenson.
After he plugged through Yale Law and a two year stint in the Army "digging latrines," Mrs. Roosevelt asked Lowenstein to run a national education campaign for the United Nations Association. He campaigned for the UN group for a year and then left to become Senator Hubert Humphrey's foreign policy advisor. He met Senator Eugene J. McCarthy, Humphrey's newly elected junior colleague, during the spring of 1959.
To the Bush
At the time Lowenstein was helping Humphrey in Washington, the Rev. Michael Stewart, a British missionary, was attempting to gather evidence of the South African government's brutality in governing its UN trust territory, Southwest Africa. When Stewart was barred from the South African mandate, he asked Lowenstein to continue his work.
With two friends Lowenstein entered the Southwest African bush country for a "biological expedition," as they described it to suspicious officials. After weeks of watching and waiting, the three reached several chiefs who were willing to talk about government atrocities. They were chased through the back country and just managed to leave the country before the police caught up with them.
The evidence Lowenstein gathered he later presented before a committee of the UN General Assembly. One top UN official called the 3 a.m. address before the committee the finest he had ever heard in his long stay at the UN. The testimony he presented became the basis for the World Court case against South Africa for its violation of the Southwest African mandate.
At the time of his return a "Lowenstein for Congress" movement blossomed, but he soon withdrew from the race and went to work for one of his opponents. He spent the rest of the presidential year, 1960, working for the Democratic National Committee.
In 1961 Lowenstein was asked to go to Stanford as an assistant dean of men and as an instructor in political science. In one year he succeeded in shaking up the previously non-activist campus to such an extent that Lowenstein and the dean of students left, rather than force a confrontation between students and the Administration. Had they remained, the office of the dean of students would have sided with the student activists.
One Stanford student recalled Lowenstein's apartment perpetually filled with students. "Many met each other," he said, "who would quite likely have never come into contact over the obstacles of Stanford's social life. Stanford is still facing the effects of those meetings."
After Stanford, Lowenstein went to North Carolina State in Raleigh where his activism and involvement with students in the racially tense years between 1962 and 1964 brought calls from the President of the State Senate, among others, for Lowenstein's ouster.
Lowenstein, while a professor in 1963 at North Carolina State, was one of the prime movers behind a black Mississippi "mock election" which gave birth to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The election also served as a pilot project for a student movement which was later called the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The publicity which a group of about 50 college volunteers mainly from Yale and Stanford received in their hometown newspapers for their participation in the "mock election" prompted Lowenstein and one or two others to organize the "Freedom Summer" project which sent 600 campus volunteers to Mississippi. Lowenstein and his friends set up the project and raised most of the money.
The summer of 1964, when he was not campaigning in Humphrey's "Happy Warrior" plane, he spent working in the struggle to seat the MFDP at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. The extremely bitter fight alienated him from most of the black activists whom he had been friendly with in SNCC and CORE.
Since 1964 Lowenstein has worked as legal counsel to his family's restaurant business in New York. He also has run for Congress once from the upper West Side (coming very close to winning); started one of the first groups to protest the war during the late summer of 1965 (Americans for a Reappraisal of Far Eastern Policy); and has been elected to the national board of SANE, the vice chairmanship of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the board of the Rev. Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and now the co-chairmanship of the Conference of Concerned Democrats. He is considered a prime candidate, according to national columnist James Weschler of the New York Post, for a seat in Congress or the Democratic nomination to oppose Senator Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.).
One Massachusetts politician who has known him for nearly a decade said while watching him on television last month, "he always appears to be making a speech, even in an informal conversation with only one or two other people. It makes him seem insincere."
No one doubts that he can give great speeches, but even his close friends like the Rev. Coffin say that, Lowenstein can never really sit down and talk with him about life in general. Whether modesty or pseudo-modesty one can't be sure, but Lowenstein finds it very hard to talk about himself. There is always some project which is more important than any "irrevelant" conversation. He never slackens his pace; there is never a letup in his barnstorming pace.
Some new liberal cause will occupy Lowenstein's time once the McCarthy campaign is over: South Africa, the Franco regime, or most probably a sacrificial senatorial campaign. "I think he will always fight cursades because injustice fills him with a sense of rebellion. He wants to be of help in some way . . . ," wrote Eleanor Roosevelt about Lowenstein. Norman Thomas has nothing but the highest admiration for his young friend Lowenstein.
At a time when liberals are under heavy attack for their views on the war and on civil rights from both the radicals and conservatives, Allard K. Lowenstein stands out as a liberal par excellence.