I caught a fascinating echo of the 1952 campaign today. Paul Begala, a Clinton supporter promoting the line that Senator Obama’s electoral base is too narrow to sustain a winning general election campaign, stated that Democrats could not win in November with just “eggheads and African-Americans.” The term “egghead” in this negative context entered the political lexicon during the 1952 presidential campaign of another Illinois politician, Adlai Stevenson, who was also seen as appealing to a too-select, too-intellectually-inclined slice of the electorate, and unable to energize the working class. It was applied to Stevenson supporters in September 1952, in a column by Stewart Alsop. After hearing a particularly cerebral Stevenson speech on atomic energy in Hartford Connecticut, Alsop mentioned to “a rising young Connecticut Republican” (later identified as his brother John) that “a good many intelligent people who would be considered normally Republican, obviously admired Stevenson.” “Sure,” John replied, “all the eggheads love Stevenson. But how many eggheads do you think there are?” Stevenson lost the race to war hero Dwight Eisenhower 55 percent to 44 percent. During the 1956 campaign, a replay of the 1952 match-up, a woman called out to him at an event, “You have the vote of every thinking person!” Stevenson called back, “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!” Stevenson lost that round to Ike 57 percent to 42 percent.
It is also worth noting also that in 1908 Carl Sandburg stated that “egghead” was Midwestern slang for “editorial writers,” which, while apt, is certainly not the constituency to whom Mr. Begala was referring.