Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Last Hurrah

I watched The Last Hurrah starring Spencer Tracy last night on Turner Classic Movies. The movie (and the book) is truly classic but unfortunately the movie (and the book) has started to fade from the public consciousness. The movie was directed by legendary director John Ford and the screenplay was the work of Frank Nugent (who also wrote the screenplay for Ford's The Quiet Man and Forte Apache).

The basic plot of the book is both a thinly veiled biopic of James Michael Curley and also a tale of the changing of the guard in politics. The tale of the old, machine politics, ward boss, dispenser of favors vs the new, young telegenic politician is very spot on. It is instructive and in its way it makes one yearn for the old ways of politics.

The problem with those old Frank Skeffington / James Michael Curley ways is that A: the ugly side of graft and extortion are glossed over and B: they just wouldn't work today. They wouldn't work today because the spoils system of patronage has been replaced by affirmative action and civil service. However, the main reason it wouldn't work is because back then everyone knew everyone else in the neighborhood. Today people may only know a few people who live on their street never mind the neighborhood. Tip O'Neill famously said that all politics is local but that definition of "local" has morphed over the year to be much less specific.

The old school of politcs seems to have died out in this day of sound bites and the the blogosphere but something tells me that selectively using tactics from the old days could be very successful today where machines leaving telephone messages are common and live calls from friends are less frequent. The very word "Hurrah" is as dated and un-used as the old ways of politics. But the word "Hurrah" can be very useful in making a point just as some of the old ways could be useful in gaining a public office

One thing that did bother me was the fact that it was filmed in California and the weather in November (when elections are held) looked so good on screen that it just felt fake.

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