The Last Hurrah

Saturday, January 13, 2018
by Patrick Dorinson

One of my favorite motion pictures is John Ford’s classic, “The Last Hurrah” starring Spencer Tracy and many actors who were part of Ford’s stock company and appeared in many of his films.

While Ford was best known for his epic westerns, “The Last Hurrah” is about politics.

The picture tells the story of Frank Skeffington an old fashioned Irish American politician who is about to begin his final re-election campaign for Mayor of a New England city that isn’t named.

Skeffington is a lovable rogue who uses all the means at his disposal to look out for the working stiffs of all ethnic backgrounds, races and religions as he angers and confounds the puritan blue bloods who used to run things and can’t stomach their loss of power.

He is surrounded by ward heelers of all stripes dispensing patronage and ensuring that every election their particular segment of the population gets out to vote.

But Skeffington knows that his old fashioned style of street corner and smoke filled room politics is giving way to television and radio and pre-packaged candidates. And in that recognition he realizes that his days are numbered.

His nephew Adam Caulfield is a sportswriter for the newspaper run by one of the worst of the bluebloods. Frank offers him a “front row seat” to bear witness to his last hurrah and the end of an era.

When he makes the offer he asks Adam what is the most popular spectator sport. The young writer gives the statistics of popularity of different sports like football and basketball.

Frank shakes his head and tells him, “Politics” is the most popular.

As I digest the 24 hour news cycle, read the comments section on articles and observe the tweets and Facebook posts of my countrymen I realize that Frank Skeffington was right only it is no longer just a spectator sport.

We are all also participants and players on the field if you will.

Everything is also now political from TV shows and sports where actors and athletes use their fleeting fame to protest the very country that gives them the opportunity to become millionaires.

And we can’t seem to catch our breath before the next piece of “breaking news” that really isn’t breaking news flashes across our television, computer or phone screens and we get all spun up as blood pressures rise and people man the keyboards-the modern day barricades- to respond.

In the old days when newspapers were the major source that people got their news there was time to digest things. And if something was breaking news it really was.

Newspapers put out what were called “extras”. You paid attention as the newsboy on the street corner cried out the headlines shouting something like, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Pearl Harbor Bombed! Or FDR Dies!”.

Today every five minutes we are treated to the modern version of the newsboy. They are newsreaders not journalists usually attractive young women or handsome young men. And they don’t shout the headlines.

The problem is no one knows what’s really important and what isn’t since we are breathlessly told everything is breaking news.

After the breaking news is broken then comes the shouting when we get the “in depth” analysis from a panel of so-called strategists from both sides.

But the analysis is as shallow as a puddle in a pothole after a rainstorm.

And they are usually dead wrong as we witnessed by the results of the last election

These panels of experts with no expertise are no different than the panels we see on ESPN or other sports channels.

In fact nowadays you can’t tell the political panel shows from the sports panel shows as ESPN in particular seems more interested in covering the politics of sports than the sports themselves.

And that means that politics is as Frank Skeffington believed is not only the number one spectator sport in the country the coverage of it bears a striking resemblance to real sport.

So here is your Cowboy Wisdom for the Week and it relates to the panels of political experts who are constantly offering their “analysis” of that number one spectator sport of politics. It comes from Laurence J. Peter, author of the “Peter Principle” which stated that managers rise to the level of their incompetence.

“The economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today”.

Substitute political analyst for economist and you get the same result.

They also rise to the level of their incompetence, but at least they can make big bucks peddling their cattle crap as a CNN or FOX contributor.