This is a book that will resonant in my mind for the rest of my life. I learned more about the realities of government and politics from reading this fictional story set in the 1930’s than from any government calls in high school or college. If you want to understand how our government really works – this is a must read. As the saying goes – sausage and laws – two things that we all enjoy but do not want to see made. True words! The egoism, greed, lust, vanity, deception and back-room deals displayed in All the Kings Men help you understand that government is a very corrupt, complicated and messy business.
The main character, Willie Stark, is a charismatic man of the people, who appeals to the little man with promises of taking his business to the halls of power and seeing that the working people get a fare shake in government. As you may guess, all his best intentions are soon abandoned as his taste for power and position take hold. To retain his status he must play the game laid out by the powers-that-be – the moneyed establishment who control the true levers of power. At which point, his words do not change, but his conviction and effort on behalf of the people who believe in him diminish greatly.
Lest on believe that this is a story of days gone by one need only reflect for a moment on our current government (local, state and federal). Most people hate the government, hate congress – but like their own representative. Year after year we elect candidates who promise reform, change, to end corruption, to shrink government, or solve all our problems or whatever it takes to get elected. I believe that many of these individuals believe that they can actually do some of these things if given the opportunity.
Then they into the black hole of capital politics and their visions of serving the people and cleaning up the government get flushed down the toilet. No representative can solve our governmental crisis for us – it requires deliberate involvement by every citizen to do so – but we are way too busy trying to get through our own days to do such work – so we abandon it to our elected officials (can you say vicious circle?). And here we are!
All the Kings Men is an education in individual responsibility. Looking behind the curtain to see the motivation and machination of government is a great reminder that each of us must take responsibility for maintaining the integrity of our political system. We must hold our elected officials accountable, know our history, understand the foundations of our system, recognize its importance and not allow the cult of personality to degrade it value or legitimacy. Don’t fall in love with the smile – listen to their words and hold them accountable for what they say and do – failure to do so is to surrender your autonomy and independence.
It is not uncommon to believe that our elected officials are off at the capital fighting on our behalf against all odds. We cannot accept they may be a part of the problem – active participants in it – and be profiting from it all the while. Without a lot of digging one can discover the number of congressman who leave office much richer than when they entered (Nancy Pelosi) and transition quickly into very high-paying private sector businesses who benefit greatly from their governmental connections and influence. The struggle for the independent in government is great and I have tremendous respect for anyone who gives it a go (Ron Paul & Rand Paul). Their plight makes me think of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a great Frank Capra film about an innocent, honest man who becomes a senator – is dismayed by the corruption and stands up for truth and integrity – and becomes a target of all who profit from business as usual. Great movie – give it a tumble.
Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.