Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Redux Mr. Smith

I originally posted this over a year-and-a-half ago when I began this blog.  Given the recent debacle--otherwise known as the debt ceiling debate-- the country witnessed in the House and Senate, I found myself thinking about this film yet again.  I decided to re-post this, with a few edits, in order to remind myself why I refuse to lose all faith, and why I'm still interested in political possibilities.  It also reminded me to look for the truly positive examples in life, and Alex Petroff springs to mind  (see "Paging Ben Affleck: Working Villages is calling..."

     For those not familiar with "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", it's a1939 film by producer/director Frank Capra (see "It's A Wonderful Life"). Many consider this classic comedy/drama to be Capra's greatest achievement. James Stewart established himself as a leading actor in the role of Jefferson Smith, a wide-eyed innocent idealist who is plucked from obscurity to fill out the term of a Senate seat left vacant by the sudden death of Senator Samuel Foley, a largely spineless and compliant character in the decidedly corrupt political machine presided over by boss Jim Taylor. Taylor, along with Governor Hopper and Senator Paine, are determined to appoint someone who won't ask questions, or do anything that might disturb the machine's backdoor dealings. Political parties aren't identified, nor is the state in question... instead, Capra leaves us with the realization that this could be anywhere, and corrupt politicians come in all flavors.
     Jefferson Smith, however, seems to believe in the basic decency of every person he encounters, and he maintains a passionate love affair with the United States. He's a wide-eyed patriot who reverently recites the words of Lincoln and Jefferson, and is awe-struck by the sights and sounds of Washington D.C. Smith feels unworthy to join the Senate, and is completely unaware he's being set-up by those he respects most. Initially too stunned by this betrayal to defend himself, he finally takes to the Senate floor and initiates a filibuster to postpone a bill boss Taylor has engineered, and to prove his own innocence & integrity.
     The film's climactic scene illustrates the difference one good person, standing on truth, can make in the face of overwhelming adversity.
     When it was first released, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was attacked by the Washington press corps and by politicians in the U.S. Congress, both of whom labeled the film as anti-American and pro-communist for its portrayal of corruption in the government. Today, it is recognized as a paen to individual strength, integrity, and decency.
     In this day and age of out-of-control partisan bickering and gridlock, I, for one, am missing Mr. Smith.

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