Advise and Consent, In a New Edition: Buy It!

UnknownAllen Drury’s Advise and Consent is America’s most famous political novel, and deserves to be. It was published in 1959 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1960. The book’s action takes place over a week or so, beginning with the President’s nomination of Robert Leffingwell as Secretary of State. The Cold War furnishes the context, and as the Senate considers Leffingwell’s nomination, a Russian expeditionary force is speeding toward the Moon.

The question that faces the book’s protagonists is, what to do about the Soviet Union? Some want to stand up to the Soviets, to affirm American values and to fight for them if necessary. Others want, in effect, to surrender. Leffingwell’s nomination is controversial because he belongs to the latter camp.

The main characters in Advise and Consent are Senators, and the book is divided into four sections, each named for one of four men: Robert Munson, the Majority Leader who is charged with shepherding Leffingwell’s nomination through the Senate; Seab Cooley from South Carolina, who is determined to prevent Leffingwell from being confirmed; Brigham Anderson, the senator from Utah whom everyone likes, but who stands in the way of the Left’s control over American foreign policy; and the prickly Orrin Knox, who almost became president but was outmaneuvered at the convention by the man who now holds the office. One could say, though, that the real hero of Advise and Consent is the Senate itself, its history and its traditions.

In some ways, Advise and Consent seems ripped from today’s headlines. Homosexuality features in it–for that matter, so does sex generally, as no doubt is fitting for Washington. And the fundamental question: whether to fight for America, not just militarily but philosophically, or cravenly yield to a more fanatical opponent, is once again front and center.

In other ways, the book is an artifact of a lost civilization. Is today’s Senate anything like the one that Drury portrays so intimately? I don’t think so. What would Drury’s characters make of Harry Reid? One can hardly imagine. And, while Advise and Consent (or something like it) could be written today, I am not sure that it could be published, and it certainly wouldn’t win prizes. The villains in Advise and Consent–the unprincipled demagogues–are on the Left. Drury was one of the first to perceive, and to portray, the bullying cruelty that is at the heart of modern liberalism.

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All of which is to say that this is a book you should read. What prompts this post is that Advise and Consent has just been republished in a beautiful paperback edition. This new edition is a labor of love by Allen Drury’s nephews, one of whom has been our correspondent. Presumably they would like to make money on this edition, but mostly they want their uncle’s insights on American life and politics to find an audience in a new generation. You can order Advise and Consent at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, both of which also have an E-reader edition at a great price. Advise and Consent would make an excellent graduation present.

And there is more to come: Drury wrote more books, including A Shade of Difference, which is a sequel of sorts to Advise and Consent, Decision, a novel about the Supreme Court, and Mark Coffin, U.S.S., about a Senator from California. All of these are in similarly beautiful paperback editions as well as in electronic form.

But you should probably start with Advise and Consent. I recently read it for the third time–maybe the first doesn’t count, as it was in a Reader’s Digest condensed version when I was 13 or 14 years old–and enjoyed it as much as ever. I am pretty sure you will too.

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