I recently started reading Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. (If you haven’t read it, you might have to resort to your local library or a used bookstore to find a copy – I believe it’s out of print.) The novel revolves around a controversial Cold War-era Presidential nomination under consideration by the Senate.
Washington, D.C. is a much different town today than it was 50 years when the book was written. Our government has changed, too – if Allen Drury was writing Advise and Consent in 2008, the basic plot may be the same but the characters and their interactions would take on a completely new look.
I’m about 300 pages into the book, and there have only been a handful of mentions of Senate staff. The central characters are officeholders – Senators, the Vice President, the President, the Secretary of State nominee, and others. In today’s bureaucratized Washington, D.C. the staff members would surely have a major role to play. In fact, they might arguably be more important than the Senators in pushing forward the machinations of government.
The other striking anachronism is the heavy cloud of the Cold War that hangs over Drury’s Capitol. In considering the nominee for Secretary of State, the Senators in the novel express differing views on handling the Soviet Union. The most vocal Senator adamantly insists on making concessions during negotiations with the Russians, claiming he would rather “crawl to Moscow than perish under a bomb.” Nearly twenty years after Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, such defeatism is almost unfathomable.