What sacrifices of individuality, honesty, open communication, and even moral and ethical integrity did American political success in the 1950s demand? Are there genuine conspiracies against these qualities, as witnessed in Edwin O'Connor's book The Last Hurrah? Are these sacrifices of integrity the actual American political tradition?

In the 1950s, politicians like Joseph McCarthy sacrificed morals, ethics, and honesty for personal gain and power. While Frank Skeffington’s political success did not demand that he sacrifice such traits by fomenting communist hysteria, Skeffington’s own words hint that he would have done so if it had been applicable to his specific political situation.

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The sacrifices that American political success demanded in the 1950s depends on the politician and politics in question. One main development during this decade became known as McCarthyism. A Wisconsin senator named Joseph McCarthy accumulated power and notoriety by holding sensational hearings that accused prominent figures from sports, politics, and the media of engaging in communist activities.

Due to the vigilante tenor of these hearings and the questionable evidence that many of the accusations derived from, one might say that McCarthy sacrificed honesty, open communication, morality, and integrity. In other words, he harassed people and fabricated the threat of communism for his own personal gain.

In Edwin O’Connor's novel The Last Hurrah, the mayor, Frank Skeffington, did not stir up the kind of hysteria that McCarthy did, yet there’s clues that he wouldn’t have opposed espousing those tactics if they had political salience. In a conversation with his nephew in chapter 10, Skeffington appears disgruntled that communism demagoguery is inapplicable to him. “That’s one of the great handicaps for the local politician,” Skeffington tells Adam, “he can’t call his opponent a Communist.”

Fortunately, not all real-life American politicians in the 1950s acted with the same kind of blatant dissolution as McCarthy. It’s possible to argue that Dwight Eisenhower, the president from 1953 to 1961, did not completely sacrifice morality or integrity. In the latter part of the 50s, Eisenhower signed a key civil rights law and dispatched troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to compel their schools to stop segregation.

If one wanted to come up with something favorable to say about Skeffington, they could argue that Skeffington, like Eisenhower, was relatively sensitive to the needs of minority groups and did not try to enflame or offend them. At one point in the story, Skeffington scolds a political crony for telling stories that might offend Jewish people.

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