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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Movie: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Why, why haven't I seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington before now?

This is a great American movie. A true classic. The kind that makes me proud to be an American, and proud to be a Washingtonian to boot. Seeing DC through Jimmy Stewart's starry eyes reminds me yet again how fortunate I am to live here every day, in this seat of history and power.

You may be familiar with the plot. A Senator from a southern state dies and the Governor must appoint his replacement to serve out the final two months of the term. And even though Mr. Jefferson Smith has no political experience, well by gum, the Governor appoints the well-loved Boy Scout leader to take the job. Senator Smith arrives in Washington awed by those who came before him. He wanders off and visits the monuments, the archives, Mt. Vernon, Arlington Cemetery with that Jimmy Stewart look of awe and reverence. Of course, all of the Washington establishment thinks he's nuts -- he's going to Mt. Vernon? they smirk -- but in the end, he's the one who embodies true American democracy. One passionate man leading his fellow men for the good of the country.

The drama unfolds when Senator Smith writes up a handy little bill establishing a national boys' camp along the banks of a river that, whoops, is the same spot his fellow Senator is trying to put up a dam after quietly buying up all the land around the river so that he'll make a huge profit. The stakes are set: idealism vs. greed, one honest man vs. a corrupt political machine. Mr. Smith's good name is dragged through the mud and just when he is about to throw in the towel, he visits Mr. Lincoln up at his memorial and then returns to the Senate floor to fight the good fight.

In Frank Capra's and Jimmy Stewart's hands, this isn't a cliched or silly movie, it is an engaging and inspiring movie that pulls you in from its very beginning and won't leave you alone until you are just as in love with the American Dream as Mr. Smith is. Oh sure, it is a bit dated. In 1939, there were only 96 Senators, men wore hats, and that wise cracking secretary's problems will all be solved once she can just settle down and marry. But when I pass the Capitol Dome on my way in to work this morning, I will think twice about all the good ideas and hope that it stands for. And as I read the headlines today, I will hope that there is just a bit of Mr. Smith somewhere in Congress.