WASHINGTON — When Senate Republicans moved ahead with their plans to change the filibuster rule, liberals and other critics turned to an old sentimental favorite to bolster their case: Frank Capra’s 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
People For the American Way launched a $5 million ad campaign using images from the film. The New York Times evoked it in pro-filibuster editorials as did liberal columnists like Bill Press.
The award for cheapest use of it, though, goes to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J). On the Senate floor Thursday he lectured in front of a huge picture of the film’s star Jimmy Stewart, who uses the filibuster to thwart the forces of evil.
The movie, he said, “is a celebration of this Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative body. But if the majority leader is successful in ending the filibuster … we will move from the world’s greatest deliberative body to a rubber-stamp factory.”
If that happens, he warned, the U.S. Senate would become like the Senate in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. The Dark Side of the Force, apparently, would take over.
These comments, and many other similar ones by the pro-filibuster crowd, raise a simple question: Have any of these folks actually watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington recently?
Because if they had, they’d know that it doesn’t actually live up to its reputation as a quaint, sentimental “celebration of the Senate.” It’s actually a pretty dark, cynical film about U.S. Democracy in 1930s. The movie’s underlying theme is how Roosevelt’s New Deal corrupted Congress.
More to the point, Smith’s climatic filibuster bears no resemblance to the Democrats’ filibusters of Bush’s judicial nominees.
LET’S RECAP THE FILM for those who have not seen it or who may have forgotten.
Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, leader of a Boy Scouts-type organization who is plucked from obscurity to fill out the term of the state’s just-deceased U.S. senator.
He’s picked because he’s thought to be too naive to do anything other than go along with the state’s other senator, Joseph Paine, the silver-haired picture of noblesse oblige (Claude Raines, in another great performance as a suave, morally compromised man).
It quickly becomes apparent that Smith is different from the other senators: he doesn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars.
His first bill is to create a boys’ camp in his home state. He only wants a loan from the government, not a grant, and intends to pay it back through private fund-raising. The government, he says, has enough to do without paying for his boys’ camp.
Trouble begins for Smith when he learns that the land he wants to put the camp on has already been set aside for major dam project Paine is sponsoring. The deal is pure pork-barrel politics and important to media baron Jim Taylor, who stands to make a fortune from it.
Smith decides he cannot support it. It’s graft and a waste of money besides, he says.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online