Adlai Stevenson. Courtesy of Time Magazine.
Although Adlai Stevenson has been dead for more than 40 years, he came alive for me again earlier this week when I heard his song, named after the Democratic presidental candidate in 1952 and 1956. Although Pitchfork did not like it, I found it uniquely compelling. A relatively short track at just under two minutes, I found the song compelling enough to be excited about the July release of The Avalanche, an album of tracks that did not make it into Illinois. While I am somewhat bothered by the fact Sufjan mispronounced "Adlai," I have still listened to the song almost 20 times this week.

This infatuation might be due to the fact that Adlai Stevenson has had a special place in my heart for a long time. In many ways, I see him as being similar to Al Gore - a good man, but too intelligent and aloof for the United States to elect him president.[1] While it is true that Gore did not lose by such a wide margin as Stevenson, one has to feel sorry for the fact that Stevenson lost in both 1952 and 1956. The thought that "perhaps if Eisenhower had not been his opponent" comes from the same alternate history that spawns "perhaps if Gore had decided to run in 2004." This is almost certainly fallacious, but the optimistic Martey still wonders.

The pessimistic Martey[2] thinks that being intelligent is a curse when you are a politician. Not only does it hurt you when appealing to voters, but it gives you ideals and principles, things that hinder elected officials. These sort of thoughts are why I will probably never run for political office in the United States.

Although Adlai Stevenson never became president, he did manage to shine as the United States ambassador to the United Nations. His most famous moment occurred when confronting the Soviet respresentative during the Cuban missile crisis. As Wikipedia says:

The case [that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba] was conclusively proved on 25 October at an emergency session of the UN Security Council. U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson attempted to force an answer from Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin as to the existence of the weapons, famously demanding, "Don't wait for the translation!" Upon Zorin's refusal, Stevenson produced photographs taken by U.S. surveillance aircraft showing the missile installations in Cuba.

I like to think that incident was one of the defining moments of 20th century America.[3] It was definitely important enough that it came up during this decade's most important case of a country hiding weapons. From a White House press briefing in January 2003:
And the very fact that Adlai Stevenson was able in one fell swoop to make such a revelation of course led to a change in behavior of our enemies around the world, where they realized that if they did have bad generals who had their weapons out in the open, it was now a knowable fact. And so the very fact that it was revealed once led to a change in behavior of our would-be enemies around the world, because they did not want to repeat the mistakes that were made.

And that brings me to Iraq. Iraq is excellent at hiding what it has. It has large areas of desert. It has large underground areas. It has mobile laboratories. The fact that people can even think that what Adlai Stevenson was able to do in an era far, far long ago can be repeated today is a wrongful impression of how Saddam Hussein and Iraq operate. And I think that historic context and the fact that it happened once means it's very, very less likely to happen again is important to point out.

This is one of the most ridiculous things that I have ever read. The clarity of the evidence that Adlai Stevenson showed in the United Nations session gave the United States a certain moral high ground - it was so blatant that the world knew that our claims about Soviet missiles were not an excuse to invade Cuba, but a desire to protect our country from nuclear weapons. In constrast, the Bush Administration tried to claim that same high ground without the evidence to back it up. What Adlai Stevenson did could easily be replicated today, if our politicians have the will to do so. This will only occur if the population demands it, though.

[1] Being relatively intelligent and aloof myself, I feel like I sort of understand, even though the last election I lost was in elementary school.

[2] I think he might have been born in December 2000. He might have come of age in September 2001, as I know he was definitely alive and well in March 2003.

[3]In the list of "Great American Lawyers," Adlai Stevenson's names is somewhere near Joseph Welch's.