Released just over 75 years ago, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" remains one of the most important political films to ever come out of Hollywood.
It is often required viewing in high school Government classes around the nation, and it remains relevant to politics and the state of Washington even today. "Mr. Smith" is a timeless film, appealing to people today just as it did when it was first released in 1939.
"Mr. Smith" tells the story of a young, idealistic gentleman named Jefferson Smith who is appointed junior senator of an unnamed state after one of the state's current senators dies. The patriotic Smith is like a child on a field trip when he first arrives in Washington, wandering off from his handlers and taking a tour bus of the historic parts of the city.
The skyline of Washington, DC, including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, US Capitol and National Mall, is seen from the air at sunset in this photograph taken on June 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB
The governor chose Jefferson Smith for appointment to the vacant Senate seat after the people of the state rejected the candidate the he originally put forward - the candidate approved by Jim Taylor, a lobbyist in the state and the villain of the film. Mr. Smith was picked because it was felt that he was naive and could be easily controlled by the special interests.
Mr. Smith is eager to do a good job in the Senate and wants to dig right in, reading bills so that he can cast an informed vote in the best interest of his constituents and the nation. Wanting to get Smith out of the way, and integrate him better into his role as puppet, the senior senator suggests that Smith take on a pet project and spend his time trying to get that passed through the Senate. This project serves as the catalyst for Smith discovering what Washington is truly all about.
Smith's pet project is to build a summer camp for disadvantaged boys across the country. A noble effort, for sure, except the spot Mr. Smith has chosen for the camp just so happens to be the same spot in which Mr. Taylor has already planned to build a dam which would end up making him a fortune. Taylor's cronies in the Senate, set Smith up to take a fall for corruption in an attempt to get him removed from the Senate.
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" paints the picture of a government run by special interests and lobbyists. It shows a U.S. government where politicians are bought and sold - and sometimes even bullied - into doing the bidding of the cronies who are running the show from behind the scenes, to line their own pockets. "Mr. Smith" paints a picture of how our government still looks to this day.
It is interesting that the film makes no mention of Democrats or Republicans. The left and the right are wholly irrelevant, because both are guilty of the problem. When politicians stand up against the corruption that has become inherent in the system, often they are opposed by members of their own party who have been in bed with the lobbyists for decades. In the film, this "playing the game" attitude is justified by the ideal that doing a little bad is a fair trade for being able to hold office and do a thousand good things. Is it too much to ask for politicians who vow only to do the good things?
Jefferson Smith wasn't seduced by the dark side of Washington politics. He never wavered from the righteous path, and he was destroyed for it. Washington reform can't begin with one lone senator or congressman. If any real reform is to happen, it must begin with the voter.
Part of the problem is that the average American voter is severely misinformed. Rarely do voters take the time to research a candidate, they simply decide on face value whether they like him/her or not.
This isn't only a problem on the left, either. The weird, almost worship-like, devotion with Donald Trump perfectly illustrates this issue on the right. And it isn't just with Trump. Republican voters continue to keep career politicians like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Boehner in office, despite the many times they have shown that they are in bed with the left.
Yes, we need more politicians like Jefferson Smith, but to get them we need an electorate that will demand them, and will settle for nothing less. We need an electorate that will proclaim with all the power of their vote that if our politicians are more interested in kowtowing to special interests than in truly doing what's best for the country, they will be voted out. Unfortunately, it seems as though once your guy wins, you don't bother with him again until the next election cycle, and you gleefully re-elect him, without having any clue whether he's served your community or not.
There are candidates out there like Jefferson Smith. In 2008 we had Joe the Plumber, who became the face of the average person during the 2008 election cycle. Joe - whose real name is Wurzelbacher - ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and was defeated by the incumbent. When the American people continue to elect the corrupt, the corrupt is all that remains.
As we draw closer to heading full force into the 2016 election cycle, the American people need to take another look at this film, with their eyes wide open. We need to find more Jefferson Smiths and cast our votes for them. We need to stop allowing politicians to occupy seats for decades. We don't need a Constitutional Amendment to institute term limits. All we need to do is stop re-electing the same corrupt politicians cycle after cycle, leaving them, ultimately, accountable to no one.
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" tells the story of a simple man, thrust into a position he never asked for but was honored to have and was determined to do well. Jefferson Smith loved his country, respected the Constitution, and only wanted to serve the country. He wasn't trying to rule it, which is a misconception most politicians today seem to have of their job. It isn't meant to be your career, you aren't the ruling class, it is a service and you are the servants of the American people.
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