Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Partisan Politics is Nothing New

When I was small, my mother told me, she read Allen Drury's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel about Washington politics, "Advise and Consent."

She became so engrossed in it, she admitted to me, that she sometimes left me unattended in my crib while she eagerly devoured the last pages of a given chapter.

As I have observed here before, I read that book and the others in the series at Mom's urging when I got older. Who knows? That dog–eared copy of "Advise and Consent" that my mother gave me might very well have been the one she read when I was little.

We had many conversations about that book, conversations that really lit a fire under me to see the movie that was inspired by that book. It starred Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton (in his final film), Walter Pidgeon and a host of other familiar folks — and it made its debut at the theaters 50 years ago today.

I've always been something of a political junkie, so I guess it should come as no surprise that "Advise and Consent" is, without question, one of my favorite books, and when I saw the film version it became one of my favorite movies.

Of course, there are some differences between the movie and the book. Mom pointed that out to me when I was little — probably to encourage me to read — and I have always liked to compare movies to the books on which they were based. My observation has been that, nearly always, the book is better.

Yes, I know that Drury's book was better — but, in all honesty, it's hard to beat any movie that has Fonda, Laughton and Pidgeon (not to mention Burgess Meredith and Peter Lawford).

As well as Betty White and George Grizzard, who clashed on the floor of the Senate.

Plus, the folks who adapted Drury's novel for the big screen may well have been responsible for one of my favorite lines. I don't recall reading it in the novel (it has been several years since I read it), but it was worthy of some of the lines written for the West Wing — in my opinion, the best political TV series ever made.

Fonda, who played a progressive nominee for secretary of State with an academic background, was asked during his confirmation hearing if he was what was generally known as an egghead. This was his response:
"I'm not only an egghead, I'm a premeditated egghead. I set out to become an egghead and at this moment I'm in full flower of eggheadedness. I hope to spread pollen wherever I go."

Unfortunately, modern politicians don't tend to speak that way.

But, after you have seen "Advise and Consent," I think you'll agree that politics itself hasn't changed much since Drury's day.