“MR. SMITH”, REDUX
The recent drama surrounding the Clinton team’s attempts to derail Senator Obama’s grassroots campaign has uncanny parallels to the 1939 Frank Capra movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. “Mr. Smith” is a whistle-blowing film about American politics that, at the time, spawned widespread outrage among the entrenched powers-that-be in Washington, on both sides of the political aisle.
When, in l942, the Third Reich imposed a ban on American films in Nazi-occupied France, “Mr. Smith” was considered so emblematic of political freedom and democracy that many movie theaters there chose it as the last film to be seen in France before the ban went into effect.
As movie fans may remember, “Mr. Smith” (played by Jimmy Stewart) is about a decent and honest, newly-minted young Senator from America’s heartland, who refuses to fight dirty the way his enemies do, and mounts a one-man campaign against the corrupt political machine in his own party that seeks to destroy him and his hopes for the people he represents.
At first, the corrupt politicians believe the idealistic Mr. Smith is too “green” to have any impact, and that he can be easily manipulated. But they mistake the gangly young Senator’s decency for weakness and naivete. Mr. Smith is a quick study and learns how things work in Washington.
Smith counts on the support not only of his loyal secretary, but of the American people--- the young, especially, admire him-- and they rise up en masse to show their faith in him.
When Senator Smith learns that his mentor and Senate colleague Mr. Paine, puppet of the Taylor machine, is involved in a corrupt scheme, he decides to expose him. But before he can, Paine turns the tables on Mr. Smith by falsely accusing him of corruption-- much as Hillary Clinton tried to turn the tables on Senator Obama last week with her self-described “kitchen sink” strategy.
In “Mr. Smith”, some of the public actually falls for Senator Paine’s lies, and turns against the young Senator-- not unlike what appears to have happened to Senator Obama in Texas and Ohio last week.
In the Capra movie, the Taylor machine controls the media in Smith’s home state, and their lies and strong-arm tactics drown out his message. In Senator Obama’s case, the media abetted Hillary Clinton’s transparent attempts to sully his reputation for political gain. The press corps dutifully raked Senator Obama over the coals last week after Senator Clinton’s whining complaints of favoritism, and the “Saturday Night Live Sketch” accusing the media of being soft on Obama. The charges against Senator Obama drew blood-- sucking some votes away from Senator Obama in Texas and Ohio-- before being proved false. Now, Senator Obama appears ready to fight back.
Similarly, in “Mr. Smith”, the young politician, exhausted from his one-man filibuster on the Senate floor, fights back against the false accusations against him, his voice now reduced to a hoarse rasp:
“There's no compromise with the truth,” Senator Smith says. “That's all I got the floor to say…Just get up off the ground. Get up there with that lady on top of the Capitol dome. That lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes. You won't just see scenery. You'll see what man's carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting for something better than jungle law. Fighting so he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent. Like he was created. No matter what his race, color or creed. That's what you'll see. There's no place out there for graft or greed or lies. Or compromise with human liberties. If that's what the grown-ups have done with this world - we have to start those boys' camps and see what the kids can do. It's not too late. This country is bigger than the Taylors, you or me or anything else. Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here. You just have to see them.”
A man walks into the Senate chamber and drops at Senator Smith’s feet sacks of angry telegrams from his constituents, demanding that Smith yield the floor.
More in pain and disappointment than anger, Senator Smith confronts his mentor, Senator Paine-- an old friend of his late father-- the man who has lied about his record and betrayed him:
“I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them for the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain, simple rule: Love thy neighbor. In this world full of hatred a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You knew that rule, Mr. Paine. I loved you for it, just as my father did. You know that you fight harder for the lost causes. You even die for them. Like a man we both knew, Mr. Paine.”
Senator Smith turns back to face his colleagues:
“You think I'm licked,” Senator Smith tells them. “You all think I'm licked. Well, I'm not licked! And I'm going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if the room gets filled with lies like these, and the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody’ll listen to me…”*
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