We all know- roughly – how our democracy works. I mean – the Founding Fathers laid it all out for us in the constitution and everything. But I haven’t read it lately – and, anyway – that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work. Then, there’s the other thing – how our democracy really works. And that’s what Allen Drury’s, Advise and Consent, is all about. He wrote the novel in the late ‘1950’s. It begins when the President of the United States nominates a certain Robert A. Leffingwell to the post of Secretary of State. The move forces some political wrangling between the president, the vice president, some senators, various ambassadors and the press. And all that wrangling is revealed in the tug of war that surrounds the confirmation hearings. It’s a ride that takes you into the offices, the minds, and the personal lives of those who run the government. You get to know them – what makes them tick and what makes them do the things they do to one another. And even now – decades after the novel came out – Advise and Consent is a ride worth taking – for what it illuminates about the workings of our government.
The star of Advise and Consent, if you’re talking about the setting, which I like to talk about – is the U.S. Capitol. So many people – from the powerful to the tourists – expect so much from those great stone walls every single day. You’ll see that – and then you’ll keep going along the National Mall – swinging by the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and then one by one, the monuments – Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson where you might “… stand by his statue and think Big Thoughts.” That’s what Drury would like you to do. But you won’t stop there – you’ll dine at the Press Club and visit the White House and even swing up Embassy Row for a peek at the gates from which the cabal of Advise and Consent, ambassadors, emerged each day. You’ll go to Union Station to locate the verse – etched in stone – about travelers. And when you’ve had your fill of Washington you might take a cue from a couple of senators you’ve come to know in the pages of the book and drive out to the country to Normandy Farms restaurant. But, be careful. You could – like they did – find that a few of the ambassadors had already beaten you there.
I’ve come across a few books like this – the author worked his or her day job and then at night – pounded out a work of brilliance that changed his or her life forever. That’s what happened with Advise and Consent. Allen Drury worked as a journalist on Capitol Hill with the real leaders of our nation and each night he went home and worked on a story about his fictional leaders. After about fourteen months – the manuscript was ready. And it struck a chord. The novel jumped onto the New York Times Bestseller list and didn’t come off for a hundred and twenty months. And then, in 1960, Advise and Consent won a Pulitzer Prize. And yes, Drury got to quit his day job.