One of my favorite old movies was on last night. The title of the film is Advise and Consent and it is closely based on Alan Drury's novel of the same name. Set in the early 1960s, it can hardly qualify as hist-fic since that was when the novel and movie both came out. Still, it opens a revealing window on the politics of the time, and on the internecine warfare within the political parties. While we are buffeted today with recriminations between the parties, this is largely pea shooting in comparison to the intra-party hatreds that existed when both the Republicans and Democrats had larger ideological tents. Unlike inter-party squabbles, intra-party disputes take place for the most part under the radar.
To be precise, the novel was published in 1959 and the movie followed in 1962. One of the supporting actors in the film was Peter Lawford, then brother-in-law to the sitting president. The backdrop to the entire story is the Cold War, with the novel coming ahead of Soviet Premiere Nikita Kruschev's infamous and menacing visit to the United States (Kruschev took off his shoe when protesting a delegate's speech to the United Nations General Assembly, and reportedly pounded it on the desk). Fear and loathing—justified and otherwise—permeated the atmosphere in official circles, and conciliatory rhetoric was judged—justifiably and otherwise—as a sign of cowardice.
The Democratic coalition cobbled together by Franklin Delano Roosevelt thirty years before was showing signs of strain over civil rights, social issues and, above all, Communism. On the far wings of Congress stood Republicans, in the tradition of Senator Robert Taft, who advocated an isolationist approach to world affairs; and Democrats who championed a gentle version of internationalism. The majority in both parties, however, were seasoned cold warriors. Advise and Consent is the story of a Senate that is confronted with the nomination of a peace advocate, Robert Leffingwell, for the position of Secretary of State. Liberals pushed the nomination vociferously while Democratic hawks saw Leffingwell as the epitome of an appeaser.
The negotiations, battles, intrigue and tragedies that ensue will only be known by those of you who get the book or DVD. Suffice to say that the machinations are not pretty. Blackmail, extortion and defamation are the instruments of first resort. After watching the intramural infighting, I can only say: let's have more of it. I alluded to this in Tuesday's post and the movie drives the point home. The deadlock between parties can only be released when fellow partisans turn on one another. Only then will the demonization across the aisle cease, I truly believe.