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Issue 46 - Days when they were kings

Whisky Magazine Issue 46
March 2005

 

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Days when they were kings

Jefferson Chase takes a nostalgic trawl through Robert Penn Warren's political classic

Struggling to maintain my sanity amidst all the sensationalist soundbites, proxy mudslinging and media manipulation of the 2004 American Presidential election, I turned to Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men a book over half a century old that could hardly be more topical.

Based on the life of former Louisiana governor Huey Long, this 1946 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is both a exposé and a celebration of Southern politics, a grand tale of corrupted ideals, replete with sensationalist sound-bites, proxy mudslinging and media manipulation. All the King's Men is narrated by Jack Burdon, a newspaper reporter turned right-hand man for the fictional Governor Willie Stark.

Burdon's main job is to dig up dirt on Stark's political opponents, and reflecting over the obligatory shots of bourbon, Burdon can't decide whether he more admires or loathes the man he calls, simply, The Boss.

Stark is both a self-styled champion of the common man and a ruthless demagogue willing to use any means necessary to enforce his political will. In a flashback, Burdon recalls how whisky played a role in the Boss's meteoric rise to power.

Stark, it seems, started out as an idealistic, tee-totalling patsy, secretly underwritten by the political machine to split the opposition vote and guarantee the incumbent's re-election. Afact lost on Stark himself, until his campaign manager puts him in the picture.

It hit him. There was no denying it. His face worked as though he might try to say something o...

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