A tale of two Senates

Published 6:09 pm Thursday, January 23, 2020

“Send in the clowns.

There ought to be clowns.”—Quoted material by Stephen Sonheim.

The circus is coming to town, but the greatest show on Earth, it ain’t.

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Instead of a big top and sawdust floors, it is set up within the hallowed halls of the United States Senate with its footstep-enhancing marbled walkways. Where giants once trod.

But it is a circus, nonetheless, with over-the-top antics of clowns, galore, all performing at the ringmaster’s beck and call and all for the benefit of television cameras and re-election campaigns.

By the time its utterly and completely predictable final act concludes, any vestige of the Senate’s long self-perpetuated reputation as “the world’s most deliberative body” is apt to have vanished amid a fog of mediocrity.

It is the election of mediocre men and women who need and will do anything to keep their jobs that may well prove to be the ultimate etching on the tombstone of the American republic.

By the time the impeachment trial of the 45th President of the United States, the outcome of which is as certain as a carnival “game of chance,” is finally over, we will all have proof positive that there is no returning from the dead for if there were, some folks named Madison and Hamilton would have their hands around the throats of some other considerably lesser folks named McConnell and Graham and Schumer, not to mention the likes of Starr and Dershowitz.

Bit players, all on this nation’s biggest stage.

The presidency of Donald John Trump has managed to either diminish or defile virtually every established institution and norm in this country, and it is about to add the United States Senate to that list.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, and it hasn’t always been so — even within my lifetime.

In 1959, a veteran newspaper reporter-turned-novelist named Allen Drury wrote and Doubleday published a remarkable work, “Advise and Consent.”  It spent more than 100 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1960. Two years later, it was adapted into what proved to be a successful motion picture that still shows up from time-to-time on some of the classic movie channels.

The novel itself is, I believe, now out of print, but can still be found on the shelves of virtually every library in the country and should be read by every American, for it literally illustrates Drury’s first-hand reportorial observations of how things should — and once did — work in Washington.

Written during and set in the height of the Cold War, “Advise and Consent” is the fictional account of a president in failing health’s nomination of a prominent liberal figure to be Secretary of State and through well and deeply developed characters (painfully reminiscent of actual figures of the time, despite the author’s denial of such) takes the reader inside the Senate’s confirmation process of that nominee.

(Drury was himself a staunch anti-Communist who believed that post World War II American liberalism was contributing to a Communist effort to achieve world domination.)

The storyline itself is a compelling read, but particularly viewed in retrospect and within the context of what is taking place now, the novel’s most striking aspect is its depiction of the individual senators themselves.

Hardly an idealist, Drury honestly portrays the raw power politics inherent within any such confirmation fight — from the pressure exerted by a president upon his majority leader to push through what he views as a legacy nomination, to the ruthlessness of an overzealous junior senator (obviously a Joseph McCarthy caricature) that eventually results in the suicide of a good and decent senator — an action which has the effect of dooming the nomination by a kindling of senatorial conscience and sense of duty.

The point, of course, being that such senses of conscience and duty then existed — not merely in an author’s work, but within the real world of a United States senate upon which it was based.

It isn’t just that when push came to shove Drury’s United States senators knew what was the right thing to do, they actually did it, politics and partisanship be damned.

And that stands in sickeningly stark contrast to the spectacle of misplaced fealty and self-servitude we are about to witness.

There once were statesmen. They are today most evident in their absence.

“But where are the clowns?

Quick, send in the clowns.

Don’t bother, they’re here.”

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.