Saipan — “The best novel about American politics,” according to The New York Times, was published in 1956. The author was Edwin O’Connor, a print and broadcast journalist, and the title of his book was The Last Hurrah. It could very well be among the best novels about politics, period.
The novel’s hero is Frank Skeffington, the 72-year-old mayor of an unnamed East Coast city. He had been in politics for half a century, but was, once again, seeking reelection, much to the dismay of his opponents who, in each election year, had accused him of “abuse, mismanagement and corruption.” (Opposing these evils has been the platform of the opposition — “since ever since.” Of course, once in power, they will be, eventually, accused of abuse, mismanagement and corruption.)
Many believed that Skeffington was a character based on former Massachusetts governor, congressman and Boston mayor James Michael Curley who won an unprecedented fourth term as mayor despite being indicted. (President Truman commuted his fellow Democrat’s sentence in 1947, and pardoned Curley in 1950 for his previous convictions.) The author said people shouldn’t confuse fact with fiction, but it was undeniable that his fictional Mayor Skeffington was as colorful and charming as real-life former Mayor Curley.
And just as smart: Mayor Skeffington “had no high opinion of the intelligence of the electorate, but experience had taught him that it quite adequately grasped the fact that all successful political activity was based on quid pro quo.”