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“There are a hundred other places in the state that really need the water,” he says. He is aghast that Paine, whom he idolizes, would support it.
Paine tries to “talk sense” into Smith, delivering a soliloquy about the virtue of spending taxpayer money:
“Thirty years ago I had your ideals. I was you. I had to make the same decision you were asked to make today. And I made it. I compromised — yes! So that all those years, I could sit in that Senate and serve the people in a thousand honest ways. You’ve got to face facts, Jeff. I’ve served our state well, haven’t I? We have the lowest unemployment and the highest federal grants. But, well, I’ve had to compromise. I’ve had to play ball,” he tells Smith. (Emphasis added.)
There in a nutshell is the corruption that Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is focused on: the belief that there is something good, even noble, about robbing Peter (i.e. the taxpayer) to pay Paul.
BEAR IN MIND, THE film came out in 1939 when FDR’s New Deal was still in full swing. The movie argues that the deal’s public spending projects corrupted lawmakers by giving them millions to dole out. Inevitably, favoritism, back-scratching and worse set in and once-noble legislators like Paine are corrupted.
Worse yet, everybody in the film except Smith accepts this as normal. No wonder D.C. lawmakers denounced the film when it first came out.
Paine warns Smith not to oppose the dam project, telling him that “powerful forces” (i.e. Taylor and his newspapers) want it. “They’ll destroy you” if he stands in their way, Paine says.
Smith is unmoved and makes clear that he’ll challenge it on the Senate floor and expose how it will benefit Taylor.
Paine responds by coldly betraying Smith, framing him for an ethics violation and trying to get him ejected from the Senate. In the film’s climax, Smith refuses to relinquish the Senate floor, preventing the other Senators from voting to oust him.
This is the film’s famous filibuster and it has nothing to do with keeping a judicial nominee off the bench. It is all about Smith fighting for his own survival against the entrenched interests in Washington.
It’s also worth noting that this is the old-fashioned kind of filibuster, where Smith must speak constantly or yield the floor. The rule has been changed since then. These days Democrats merely need to say they’re filibustering a judge and they can still be home for dinner.
In the end, Smith’s filibuster itself doesn’t really do anything anyway. He collapses after speaking for nearly a full day and Paine, guilt-ridden, confesses to having helped frame Smith. Smith’s marathon speech could just as easily have been set in front of the Capitol Building. Plotwise, it would have made no difference.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a terrific and very entertaining film. It’s something everybody should see and pay close attention to, especially some members of Congress and the media.
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.
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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.
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