All the King’s Men is the story of Willie Stark, a Louisiana politician, and his trusted friend and advisor Jack Burden, a reporter. Together the two embark on a radical campaign to elect Willie and then to later implement his Robin Hood-esque plan to tax the wealthy citizens and companies of Louisiana so that the government can use that money to build roads, schools, and hospitals for the poor. As Willie gains power, corruption creeps in, and he and Jack have to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
“I’m gonna keep the power with the people,” vows Willie. He lived a life in poverty before rising to political power as governor. He wants to finally give a voice to those that are so often under-represented by the well-educated politicians who more often then not come into their positions of power through their wealth and connections. In his campaigning, he refers to himself and his constituents as “hicks,” removing the derogatory power from the word and replacing it with a more admirable connotation. He disassociates himself from the corrupt and greedy politicians and public figures that convinced him to run for office in the first place, wanting instead to run an honest campaign that would benefit honest, hard-working people that had suffered at the hands of the current government system. The people elect a man who they believe will work for them and will protect and promote their interests as he has so promised, but once he is in office, the people’s role is finished and it is up to him to keep his promise. Churchill’s comment that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other ones, gains some support with the understanding that the people elect a candidate, but never a candidate they choose for themselves. Candidates are selected by other politicians and political advisors. Voters are expected to support the candidate that they feel will best represent them which often translates in to choosing the lesser of two evils.
Jack comes from a family considered to be a part of the American aristocracy in Louisiana. He rebels against his family and their wishes to work for Willie. Jack is instructed to research Willie’s opposition, and the information Jack digs up becomes material for blackmail. Willie’s movements and bills are constantly shut down in the state senate, so he finds another way to have his policies passed. Willie sees the consequences of his actions as progress, not as detrimental. What is the price we have to pay for change? Is there a way to enact it without circumventing the law or the rules of a societal system? If working around those laws produce a desirable or beneficial outcome, do the ends justify the means? Willie faces the consequences of his actions when he is murdered in the state capitol. Jack must assume responsibility for his godfather’s suicide as it was the outing of information he had gathered that lead Irwin to kill himself.