Advise and Consent is the Pulitzer-Prize Winning mega-bestseller that set the groundwork for political thrillers, long before House of Cards or The West Wing. One of the high points of 20th Century literature, a seminal work of political fiction—as relevant today as when it was first published. A sweeping tale of corruption and ambition cut across the landscape of Washington, DC with the breadth and realism that only an astute observer and insider can convey.
When I heard that I had a chance at including one of the seminal political thrillers of all time, I just about dropped. Allen Drury's Advise and Consent was the #1 NYT Bestseller of 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize that year (the last bestseller to do so until 2014). Allen Drury laid down the gauntlet by which all political thrillers are measured. One of the defining books of the entire thriller genre, it is once again available after decades out of print…as are the rest of this amazing series. – M.L. Buchman
When Bob Munson awoke in his apartment at the Sheraton-Park Hotel at seven thirty-one in the morning he had the feeling it would be a bad day. The impression was confirmed as soon as he got out of bed and brought in The Washington Post and Times Herald.
PRESIDENT NAMES LEFFINGWELL SECRETARY OF STATE, the headline said. What Bob Munson said, in a tired tone of voice, was, "Oh, God damn."
"As if I didn't have enough troubles," he added with growing vehemence to himself as he went in the bathroom and started getting dressed. "As if I didn't have enough to do, running his errands and steering his program. And he didn't even tell me." That was what hurt. "He didn't even tell me."
Thinking back to the White House conference of legislative leaders yesterday morning, Robert Durham Munson, who was senior United States Senator from the state of Michigan and Majority Leader of the United States Senate, couldn't remember so much as a single hint about Bob Leffingwell. In fact, hadn't there even been a denial that any appointment would be made just yet? Not a flat denial, of course, not an open denial, but an impression left, an idea conveyed, laced with smiles and ribboned with wisecracks. Something about, "We'll have to see about that, Bob. What's your hurry?" followed by a hearty reference to losing money at the races and a joke about Seab Cooley, who often did.
Seab Cooley. That old coot. The senior Senator from Michigan thought, and his thoughts were not loving, of the senior Senator from South Carolina. Seab Cooley was going to raise hell about Bob Leffingwell. Because of Seab Cooley, the Administration was going to have a hard time. Because of Bob Leffingwell, the Administration was going to have a hard time. Why couldn't he have picked any one of ten thousand other outstanding Americans? Why the one most likely to cause trouble?
Pondering the mysterious ways of Presidents, with which he had had considerable contact in twenty-three years in the Senate, Bob Munson completed dressing and went to the telephone. In a moment the confident voice came over.
"He—llo, Bob! You got me out of bed, you son of a gun!"
"Mmmhmm," Bob Munson said. "That's a hell of an appointment."
"What's that?" the voice asked, losing a trace of its good cheer.
"You know what I mean. Bob Leffingwell."
"Oh, Leffingwell," the voice said.
"Yes," said Bob Munson, "Leffingwell. Mr. President, why in hell—"
"Now, wait," the voice said. "Now, wait, Bob. Take it easy. You don't deny he's the best administrator we've got in government, do you?"
"And you don't deny his general brains, character, and ability?"
"Oh, he's perfect," Senator Munson said. "But he isn't going to get through without a fight."
The voice dismissed that. "Oh well."
"Oh well, nothing," Bob Munson said. "You don't have to worry. You won't be up there on the Hill sweating it out."
"I'll be down here sweating it out," the voice retorted with some vigor. "It's my appointment. I'll take the rap for it."
"You take your rap when you announce the appointment. You don't have to take the day-by-day rap the way I do."
"You know, Bob," the voice said, "you sound awfully sorry for yourself. You break my heart, Senator. Please stop it."
"Just the same, I think you ought to give these things more thought."
"I've been thinking about Bob Leffingwell for that job for six months," the voice said.
"Oh, have you? It might have helped me lay a little groundwork if you'd told me about it."
"What do you need groundwork for? You know your opposition. Seab Cooley. We've had that problem before, haven't we?"
"Yes," Bob Munson said, "and it's licked us oftener than we've licked it."
The voice got its happy lilt, the one that went with the toss of the head. "I'd say honors are about even."
"Not this time. A lot of people don't like Leffingwell."
The voice chuckled. "A lot of people don't like me, either, and look where I am."
In spite of himself Bob Munson laughed.
"Damn it," he said, "you could charm the rattles off a snake. But you can't charm them off Seab Cooley."
The voice became slightly rueful.
"No," it admitted. "I found that out a long time ago. But I'm not worried as long as the matter is in your competent hands."
"Yeah," Senator Munson said.
"Now look, Bob," the voice said, getting the hard-boiled tone it acquired when the talk got down to the business of practical politics, "what's the situation up there, seriously?"
"The situation is," Bob Munson said, "that I'd never have let you make the appointment if you'd asked me first. I'd have raised hell."
The voice gave a triumphant little laugh.
"That's exactly why I didn't tell you, Bob," it said. "I knew you'd object; I knew you'd have a dozen excellent reasons why I shouldn't do it. I knew I'd better get myself committed first and ask questions afterwards. But seriously, in addition to Seab, who else have we got to worry about? What will they do on the other side of the aisle?"
A series of names and faces flashed across Bob Munson's mind—the Minority, good men and true, good friends and good enemies, and brothers in the bond.
"Well," he said, "they're split ten ways from Sunday, just like us."
"Just like us," the voice agreed with a laugh. "Then it's wide open and every man for himself isn't it?"
"That's it," Bob Munson said. "And devil take Bob Leffingwell."
"Well, let me know what I can do from here. I want that nomination to go through."
"Oh, it will," Senator Munson said. "But it's going to take a little doing."
"I want it to go through," the voice said firmly.
"We'll see," Bob Munson said.
"Have a good time," the voice encouraged him.
"You know," Senator Munson said, "you're damned lucky to have me doing your dirty work."
"Oh, and vice versa," the voice said cheerfully. "And vice versa. Let me know how it goes."
"Right," Bob Munson said.
His next call was to Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside the District of Columbia. A maid answered. "Senator Munson to speak to Senator Strickland," he said; and after a moment, "Warren?"
The Minority Leader's voice came back with the lurking note of sardonic amusement it often held.
"Well, good morning, Bob," Warren Strickland said. "Aren't you up and about and beating the bushes a trifle early this morning?"
"You know my problem."
"Yes, I just heard it on the radio," Warren said. "How's Seab taking it?"
"I haven't talked to him yet, but it isn't hard to imagine."
"And the President is tickled pink, I suppose?"
"He seemed amused," Senator Munson said.
"You do have your burdens, Robert," said Senator Strickland. "What can I do to ease the load?"
"You can tell me how many votes there are going to be against him on your side of the aisle."
The senior Senator from Idaho thought for a moment.
"Somewhere between seventeen and twenty," he said.
Bob Munson groaned.
"That was about my estimate," he said, "but I was hoping I was wrong."
"No, I don't think so," Senator Strickland said. "That's giving him the benefit of the doubt. There could be four or five more. It's going to be tight, pal. Tight."
"Even with a President's right to have the people he wants in his Cabinet?"
"Even with that," Warren Strickland said. "You know Leffingwell. It's not a simple case."
"No," said Bob Munson with a sigh. "No, it's not. How do you stand?"
"Oh, I'm against him," Warren Strickland said cheerfully. "I'll be doing what I can to lick him. Seab and I, we'll be right in there pitching."
"I'll have to give the papers a statement charging an unprincipled, under-handed coalition against the people's interests, you know," Bob Munson said.
"Go ahead and charge, Robert. We've all survived that one before. How long do you think it will be before it comes to a vote?"
"I don't know yet," Bob Munson said. "I'll have to check with Tom August and find out when he wants to start hearings in Foreign Relations Committee. I'd guess a week for the hearings, maybe; say three weeks for the whole thing to be washed up."
"That's my guess, too," Senator Strickland said. "Anything I can do, Bobby, just let me know."
"Yeah," Bob Munson said. "Go back and finish your breakfast."
"See you on the Hill," Warren Strickland said happily, and rang off.
The phone rang twice at the Westchester Apartments and was taken promptly from the hook. A girl's voice answered, and Bob Munson smiled.
"Hi, Crys," he said. "Is your dad there?"
Crystal Danta laughed.
"He's chewing the rug, Uncle Bob. Shall I stop him?"
"If you please," Bob Munson said. "Before you do, though, how are the wedding plans coming along?"
"Swimmingly," Crystal said. "Just swimmingly. I think Hal might like to back out, but after you get a man committed in the eyes of 180 million people, what can the poor sucker do?"
"He won't do anything if he knows what's good for him," Senator Munson said. "Anyway, Orrin Knox won't let him."
"Isn't he terrific?" Crystal said. "The brains I'm marrying into. Am I impressed!"
"The last time you were impressed was in the third grade," Bob Munson said.
Crystal Danta laughed happily. "It wasn't quite that early, Uncle Bob," she said. "I believe I see the distinguished and able Senator approaching, so I'd better yield. Take care of yourself."
"Why don't you come up to the Hill and have lunch with me?"
"Right. I'll meet you in the Senators' dining room. Here's Dad."
"Stanley," Bob Munson said, "have you heard what I've heard?"
The calm voice of the Majority whip, never hurried, never upset, came firmly over the wire.
"I have heard, read, seen, smelled, tasted, digested, and otherwise been bludgeoned and assaulted with the news of the Leffingwell appointment, if that's what you mean. How does it look?"
"How does it look! You're the whip. You tell me."
The senior Senator from Connecticut chuckled.
"You sound as though you've already talked to our friend at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue," he said.
"How was he?"
"Happy," Bob Munson said. "Ecstatically happy."
"I am so glad," said Senator Danta gently. "And expecting us to do all the work as usual, I presume?"
"Who else?" Bob Munson said.
"Sometimes I wonder, Bob."
"What good does it do to wonder?" Bob Munson asked. "As long as he can get 423 electoral votes there's no point in wondering about anything."
"No," said Stanley Danta, "I suppose not. What do you want me to do?"
"The usual," Senator Munson said. "A little checking around. Suppose we do what we did on FEPC the last time—split the list right down the middle. You take Brigham Anderson to Maggie Hollingsworth and I'll take Reverdy Johnson to Al Whiteside. Give Brig special attention. I think the Power Commission business still rankles."
"I know it does," Stanley Danta said. "You didn't know this was coming, did you?"
"I did not."
"I guess nobody did," said Stanley Danta wryly, "but the man what dreamed it up."
"I doubt if he did two minutes before he sent the name up," Senator Munson said bitterly.
"Well, take it easy," Senator Danta said. "We were here before he came and we'll be here after he's gone."
"I'm not so sure," Bob Munson said dourly. "I'm not so sure. Any mind that can reduce the appointment of a United States Secretary of State to a parochial political problem of how to lick Seab Cooley has a lot of staying power....Well, I'll see you on the Hill. I just made a luncheon date with your daughter. Why don't you come along and maybe we can get Orrin Knox to join us. We can do a little spadework."
"On Orrin? Come, come, Bobby."
"Well, it's worth a try," said Bob Munson defensively. "I don't think Crystal will object."
"Oh, she'll love it," her father said. "She can't get over her father-in-law-to-be. She thinks he's wonderful."
"Don't we all," said Bob Munson without irony. "But difficult. Like a disgruntled mule after an all-night drunk."
"Orrin doesn't get drunk," Stanley Danta said, "but I know what you mean. His heels dig in. It makes it troublesome at times."
"Indeed it does," said Senator Munson feelingly. "If he hasn't gone off half-cocked with a statement to the press by midmorning, the way he usually does, I think it will be well worth talking to him. Half our side of the aisle is going with him whichever way he jumps, you know. Warren tells me there may be as many as twenty-five opposed on his side."
"Yes," Senator Danta said. "I'll see you at lunch."
"Good," Bob Munson said. "Keep in touch."
"That I'll do," said Stanley Danta.
The next number Senator Munson called was busy. He waited five minutes and tried again. A maid spoke softly from Arlington Ridge Road, five miles away across the Potomac on the Virginia side.
"Mr. Leffingwell's res'dence."
"Is Mr. Leffingwell there?" Bob Munson asked.
"Who's callin', please?"
"Oh." He heard a hand go over the receiver, a muffled conversation.
The maid returned.
"I'm sorry Mr. Leffingwell not available. Mr. Leffingwell not here. He say he meet the press in his office at ten-thirty."
"Look," said Bob Munson sharply. "This isn't the press. This is Senator Munson. I heard Mr. Leffingwell's voice. Put him on."
"I'm sorry," the maid began again. "Mr. Leffingwell say he meet the press in his office—"
"You tell Mr. Leffingwell from me," he broke in icily, "that Senator Munson said he will certainly try to attend Mr. Leffingwell's press conference at ten-thirty."
"Yes, sir," the maid said.
"Thank you," Bob Munson said in a kindlier tone, for after all it wasn't the girl's fault; but his anger rose again after he hung up.
That was exactly the trouble with Bob Leffingwell, and it always had been. Supercilious, arrogant, holier-than-thou Righteous Rollo, trying to pretend he couldn't talk to the Majority Leader because it might prejudice his case before the Senate. One of the shrewdest politicians who ever hit Washington, wrapped in his snow-white armor above the battle—or so he managed to convince people.
Recalling the last big Leffingwell fight, when he had been appointed chairman of the Federal Power Commission in the previous Administration, Bob Munson remembered that even Brigham Anderson had gotten fed up. The matter had been in his hands as chairman of an Interstate and Foreign Commerce subcommittee, and toward the end the tensions of dealing with Sir Gawain, Purest of the Pure, had proved too much for even the mild-tempered senior Senator from Utah.
"Of course in a democratic government," he had remarked bitterly during the debate, "we deal with men as they are reputed to be, and not with men as they really are."
Bob Leffingwell as he was reputed to be, Senator Munson reflected, could mobilize at a conservative estimate seventy-five per cent of the Washington press corps on his side on any given issue. There were any number of writers, columnists, editorialists, bureau chiefs, and commentators who were ready and willing to go to bat for him at a moment's notice. Those who didn't know him well and believed in him as a matter of blind faith went along automatically; those who did know him well and had their doubts managed to convince themselves that not-so-good must be forgiven because quite-good often ensued. Certain phrases and attitudes, repeated day after day during his thirteen years in federal service—"a truly liberal mind ... his profound and perceptive approach to the problems of government....America's ablest public servant, instinctively aflame with the cause of true liberty," and so on—had gradually produced a conditioning few reporters could resist. A protective screen of press adulation hung between him and large portions of the public. And since the opponents, though fewer in number, possessed circulations roughly equal in their millions to the circulations possessed by the proponents, of all men in government with the possible exception of the President himself, Robert A. Leffingwell was the most controversial.
The only difficulty with the state of mind which this induced in Mr. Leffingwell, Bob Munson thought, was that it had little application on the Hill. In that realistic place, where men are judged for what they are and reputations are ruthlessly reduced to size, it came down to a hard, practical matter of getting the votes. Bob Leffingwell could swing an amazing amount of weight by a careful and clever manipulation of public opinion, but Seab Cooley could swing almost as much by a careful and clever manipulation of the Senate. And although Leffingwell had twice slipped by his vindictive vigilance, on the third go-around Seab Cooley might be pretty well prepared.
Brought by this mental roundabout squarely up against the call he had been deliberately putting off to last, Bob Munson picked up the phone and gave the name. Two floors down and one wing over, an ancient hand picked up the receiver.
"Hello, Seab," he said hurriedly. "How are things?"
"Bob?" the thick old voice said. "Is this here Bob?"
"Yes, Seab," he said. "This is Bob."
"Well, sir," said Seabright B. Cooley. "I want to tell you. Yes, sir, I certainly do. You see where the President says he's going to appoint Mr. Robert—A.—Leffingwell? I'm against it! Yes, sir, I'm surely against it. I don't like that man. I don't like him mentally, morally, physically, or Constitutionally. No, sir!"
"Now, Seab," said Bob Munson. "Now Seab, don't fly off the handle."
"Fly off the handle!" the old voice roared. "Fly off the handle! Who's flying off the handle, Bob? Who's flying off the handle? You know what I'm going to do, Bob?"—and Senator Munson could see the crafty, crumpled old face becoming even craftier and more crumpled as the voice sank abruptly to a near-whisper—"I'm going to get that man. I'm going to get them both. Yes, sir, I surely am."
"I told the President you wouldn't like it," Bob Munson said.
"Not like it!" Seab Cooley roared. "Not like it! No, sir, I don't like it! I regard it as a direct, unmitigated, unwarranted, in-ex-cu-sable insult. He knows I don't like him! He knows I've fought him every chance I've had. He knows I despise him. Why does he do it, Bob? Why—does—he—do it?"
"As a matter of fact, Seab," said Bob Munson sharply, "I'm damned if I know why myself. But he has done it, and it's up to me to get the man confirmed and I want to know how much hell you're going to raise about it."
The old voice dropped to a sly whisper, and Senator Munson could visualize the slow and sleepy smile which crept across the pugnacious old mouth.
"I'm going to raise all the hell I can," said Seab Cooley, "and you know that's a mighty lot. You know that's a mighty lot, Bob."
"Yes, I know it's a mighty lot," Bob Munson said. "Why can't you just go easy, Seab? Why do you have to be so relentless?"
"Well, sir," Seab Cooley said, "well, sir, when that man denied something he had said to me and called me a liar to my face in open committee, I made up my mind then—"
"But, Seab," Bob Munson broke in. "That was thirteen years ago."
"I remember it like yesterday!" Seab Cooley roared. "I resent it, Bob. I resent his calling me a liar. I'm not a liar, Bob."
"He didn't call you a liar, anyway, Seab," Bob Munson began patiently. "What he said was—" The telephone erupted in his ear.
"He surely did!" Seab Cooley cried. "He surely did! Don't tell me what he said, Bob! Don't tell me. I remember every word. Every—single—word. And I'm not a liar! I'm not a liar, Bob! I resent it! I do, sir!"
"No, Seab," said Bob Munson, giving up. "You're not a liar. How many votes do you think you can round up against him?"
"One or two, Bob," said Seab Cooley softly. "One or two."
"Isn't there something I can do, Seab?"
Senator Cooley considered the offer for a moment, calculated its possible benefits, rejected it.
"No, sir, I don't rightly think so," he said. "I don't rightly think so, Bob. I'm sorry to have to do it, Bob, but I can't help it. When any man calls me a liar, I resent it, Bob. I surely resent it."
"But, Seab—" Bob Munson protested.
"I resent it!" Seab Cooley roared, and slammed down the receiver.
"God Almighty," said Bob Munson with a sigh.