“Advise and Consent” by Allen Drury: Mandatory Viewing by Senators?

“Advise and Consent” by Allen Drury: Mandatory Viewing by Senators?


“And now for something completely different”

Apro­pos, of course, no cur­rent events in par­tic­u­lar, I pass along a rec­om­men­da­tion. It’s from a friend and fel­low polit­i­cal junkie. “The entire Unit­ed States Sen­ate should be required to sit through an end­less looped show­ing of Advise and Con­sent.” The 1962 film is based on Allen Drury’s  Pulitzer-prize win­ning  1959 nov­el. In the unlike­ly event you do not remem­ber the film, click here.

I agree utter­ly. I must watch it again. It is not a light­heart­ed flick….

The Plot (excerpt from Wikipedia)

The Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States nom­i­nates Robert A. Leff­in­g­well as Sec­re­tary of State. The sec­ond-term Pres­i­dent, who is ill, has cho­sen Leff­in­g­well on pur­pose. He does not believe that Vice Pres­i­dent Harley Hudson—whom both he and oth­ers usu­al­ly ignore—will suc­cess­ful­ly con­tin­ue his for­eign pol­i­cy.

Leffingwell’s nom­i­na­tion is con­tro­ver­sial. The Unit­ed States Sen­ate, using its advise and con­sent pow­ers, must either approve or reject. Both par­ties are divid­ed. Major­i­ty Leader Bob Mun­son loy­al­ly sup­ports the nom­i­nee. Although also of the major­i­ty, Pres­i­dent pro tem­pore Seabright “Seab” Coo­ley dis­likes Leff­in­g­well for per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al rea­sons. Coo­ley leads the oppo­si­tion. Dem­a­gog­ic peace advo­cate Fred Van Ack­er­man is espe­cial­ly sup­port­ive. Mun­son repeat­ed­ly tells him not to aggra­vate the sit­u­a­tion.

The Sen­ate For­eign Rela­tions Com­mit­tee appoints a sub­com­mit­tee, chaired by major­i­ty mem­ber Brigham Ander­son of Utah, to eval­u­ate the nom­i­nee. Ander­son and his wife receive anony­mous phone calls from Van Ackerman’s men. They warn that unless he reports favor­ably on Leff­in­g­well, scan­dalous infor­ma­tion about his past will appear. Col­leagues attempt to coun­sel Ander­son. But, unable to rec­on­cile his duty and his secret, Ander­son com­mits sui­cide.

* * *

The Pres­i­dent is dev­as­tat­ed over Ander­son. Nev­er­the­less, he tells the major­i­ty leader, he is dying. Leffingwell’s con­fir­ma­tion is vital. Mun­son crit­i­cizes Coo­ley for oppos­ing the nom­i­nee. In the Sen­ate Cham­ber Coo­ley apol­o­gizes for his “vin­dic­tive­ness.” He will vote against the nom­i­nee, but will not ask oth­ers to fol­low. Vice Pres­i­dent Hud­son, as Pres­i­dent of the Sen­ate, holds a quo­rum call. Then he asks for the “Yeas and Nays.

The vote is a tie. Every­one expects the Vice Pres­i­dent to break it in the nominee’s favor. Sud­den­ly, Secret Ser­vice agents enter the cham­ber and Hud­son receives a mes­sage. He announces that he will not break the tie. The nom­i­na­tion fails. We learn that the Pres­i­dent has died dur­ing the vote. As he leaves for the White House, Hud­son tells Mun­son that he wants to choose his own nom­i­nee. Con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly the Vice Pres­i­dent could not break the tie, since he was already Pres­i­dent. By not vot­ing, he nev­er­the­less accom­plish­es his pur­pose.

The Cast

The cast for Drury’s nov­el is bril­liant and mem­o­rable: Hen­ry Fon­da is Robert A. Leff­in­g­well. Charles Laughton is Sen­a­tor Seabright “Seab” Coo­ley of  South Car­oli­na. Don Mur­ray is Sen­a­tor Brigham “Brig” Ander­son of Utah. Wal­ter Pid­geon is Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Robert “Bob” Mun­son.  Peter Law­ford is Sen­a­tor Lafe Smith of Rhode Island (an approx­i­ma­tion, I always thought, of the young Sen­a­tor John F. Kennedy). Fran­chot Tone is Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

With­out too much imag­i­na­tion, you can cast today’s fig­ures in Drury’s roles. Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Car­oli­na doesn’t resem­ble Charles Laughton. Still, he could be the equiv­a­lent of Sen­a­tor Coo­ley, par­ti­san but col­le­gial. In the end, “Seab” is bro­ken-heart­ed. Ter­ri­ble events have wrecked the tra­di­tion­al ambi­ence of his beloved Sen­ate. Brigham Ander­son, dri­ven to sui­cide over sex­u­al black­mail, could be some­one we know. Like­wise, there are can­di­dates for Fred Van Ack­er­man. But there is one big dif­fer­ence. In Allen Drury’s Sen­ate, the sen­a­tors talk and dine with each oth­er. They actu­al­ly seem to like each oth­er.

The Drury Novels

Drury
Pres­i­dent Rea­gan with Allen Drury the Pres­i­den­tial Suite, Cen­tu­ry Plaza Hotel, Los Ange­les, 1981. (Rea­gan Library)

Allen Drury, like George Orwell, was a hero-nov­el­ist of my youth. Advise and Con­sent, his most famous book, was first in a hex­ol­o­gy. Togeth­er, the six nov­els are a pre­scient back­drop to today’s pol­i­tics. Churchill used to say that his­to­ry doesn’t repeat, but human nature nev­er changes. Drury’s set­ting was the time of the Cold War. Yet we see the same char­ac­ter types, and some of the exact mind­sets, among politi­cians today.

Drury’s fourth nov­el, Pre­serve and Pro­tect (1968)ends in a cliffhang­er. Harley Hud­son, who became pres­i­dent in Advise and Con­tent, has died in a sus­pi­cious plane crash. The major­i­ty par­ty is divid­ed. Noth­ing new there! On one side is Cal­i­for­nia Gov­er­nor Ted Jason. On the oth­er is the Sec­re­tary of State, for­mer Illi­nois Sen­a­tor Orrin Knox. Knox defeats Jason, but in a ges­ture of uni­ty nom­i­nates Jason for vice pres­i­dent. In a uni­ty cel­e­bra­tion in Wash­ing­ton, a gun­man appears and opens fire on the two can­di­dates and their wives. The bul­lets find one man and one woman.

Come Ninevah, Come Tyre

The last two nov­els pose alter­nate sce­nar­ios depend­ing on who falls to the assassin’s bul­lets. Come Ninevah, Come Tyre: The Pres­i­den­cy of Edward S. Jason sup­pos­es that Pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Orrin Knox and the wife of his run­ning mate are killed. Ted Jason goes on to become president—with cat­a­clysmic results. In “The Promise of Joy: The Pres­i­den­cy of Orrin Knox,” Jason and Mrs. Knox are killed, and Knox becomes pres­i­dent. This does not ensure victory—only a chance. I sup­pose is what most peo­ple want today: a chance. A chance to breathe easy.

One thought on ““Advise and Consent” by Allen Drury: Mandatory Viewing by Senators?

  1. I, too, have loved Advise and Con­sent for many years. Charles Laughton was great but I think Wal­ter Pid­geon was my favorite char­ac­ter.

    Gore Vidal’s The Best Man” was sim­i­lar and also excel­lent.

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