June 27, 2009

CAN IT REALLY NOT BE IN PRINT RIGHT NOW?:

‘Advise and Consent’ at 50 (THOMAS MALLON, 6/27/09, NY Times)

Of all the real-life senators serving when Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent” was published 50 years ago this summer, only Robert C. Byrd remains in office. At this long remove one may be tempted to see him as Drury’s model for South Carolina’s Seabright Cooley, whose ornate, quavering oratory was made so memorable by both the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Charles Laughton’s performance in the film that followed. But then one remembers that Byrd, only 41 in 1959, didn’t grow into the part of Cooley until decades later.

Drury’s Senate is such a passionate, full-throttle place that “Advise and Consent” never has occasion to quote George Washington’s famous wish that the Senate serve as a cooling saucer for legislation that boils over from the more demotic House. His mid-20th-century senators certainly speak better than those serving today, most of whom, during debate, could scarcely pronounce, let alone deploy, its orotund courtesies and barbs. Indeed, much of the ambience in which these fictional senators work and preen has vanished. In Drury’s capital, printed newspaper editorials still drive the action, and the head of General Motors calls up senators from Michigan not to rattle a cup but to dictate and threaten. At the parties given by Dolly Harrison (a more genteel version of the real-life Perle Mesta), guests stay twice as long and drink three times as much as they would allow themselves to do at any Washington party today.

And yet, 50 years later, most of the subject matter remains recognizable. Drury’s 99 men and lone woman wrestle with the issue of pre-emptive war, the degree of severity with which lying under oath must be viewed, and the way the coverup is invariably worse than the crime. Part of what kept the book on the best-seller list for 102 weeks is its comforting assumption that many politicians come to Washington hoping to do good.


More than that is the assumption, amply proved since, that the Republic will weather its kerfuffles


Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2009 8:55 AM
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