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THE CAMPAIGN: First Blunder

3 minute read

At Washington’s National Airport last week an urbane gentleman whose maroon tie was splashed with dancing donkeys emerged from an American Airlines flagship. Casually he told reporters: “I am coming at the request of the President to have lunch with him and the Cabinet.” Then, climbing into a waiting limousine, Democratic Presidential Nominee Adlai Stevenson whirled off to the White House, where the first bad blunder of the 1952 campaign was in the making.

At the White House Adlai Stevenson got his Cabinet lunch (chicken livers, mushrooms & bacon, jellied pineapple salad and canteloupe à la mode) and more than an hour’s powwow with Harry Truman and Vice Presidential Nominee John Sparkman concerning campaign plans. He also got a 20-minute intelligence briefing on the Korean war and the international situation in general. Present at the briefing, by order of Harry Truman, were C.I.A. Director General Walter Bedell Smith and General of the Army Omar Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Stevenson had scarcely boarded the plane which took him back to Illinois when Dwight Eisenhower used the briefing session as evidence in support of the two main G.O.P. campaign charges: 1) that Stevenson is a Truman puppet; 2) that Truman will swing the Government’s weight behind the Democratic candidate. The Stevenson briefing session, said Ike, “implied a decision to involve responsible nonpolitical officers of our Government . . . in a political campaign . . .” It also raised a question “as to whether the President and his Cabinet can possibly contemplate using the resources of the Federal Government to influence the judgements of the voters . . .”

Next day, spurred on by an outburst of public criticism. Harry Truman fired off a telegram inviting Ike to a Cabinet luncheon and C.I.A. briefing. Ike declined. Said he: “It is my duty to remain free to analyze publicly the policies and acts of the present Administration . . .”

Piqued, Harry Truman promptly told a press conference that he had made plans, at least a week before, for intelligence briefings of both Stevenson and Eisenhower, and that both nominees had been so informed. (Three days earlier, presidential Press Secretary Joe Short had denied knowledge of any plans for briefing Ike.) From Denver Eisenhower aide Arthur Vandenberg replied: “Neither the general nor anyone in this office has any memory of such a message, and there is nothing in our files.”

General Omar Bradley made a valiant attempt to bail Truman out. The fact was, said Bradley, that the President had directed him a week before to arrange briefings for Eisenhower. However, since Ike was so well informed on the international situation, neither Bradley nor Defense Secretary Lovett had seen any need to make immediate arrangements with Eisenhower. “Being unfamiliar with political matters,” added Bradley with overdone innocence, “it never occurred to me that the timing of notification might become an issue.”

Old Soldier Bradley’s statement by no means retrieved Harry Truman’s bobble. In Denver, Ike’s press secretary reported his boss’s reaction to the Bradley statement. Said the secretary: “The general laughed. He just laughed.”

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