I wish I could have voted for Jefferson Smith today.
It’s rare that a movie rings as true today as when it was released and far less common for them to be even more relevant in the modern era, but “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” does the unthinkable. Granted, that’s less of a compliment to Frank Capra’s superb morality tale and more of a disgrace on a country more divided than it has been since the Civil War. Though perhaps the problem is that a post-Watergate world refuses to see a Capra-esque worldview as anything other than naive fantasy.
If that’s true, then bury this country. I rarely engage in idealism, but these classics of a bygone era inspire those sensibilities to come flowing out of me. The times then might have been more innocent, and the world now might be far more hostile. But there are still Jefferson Smiths among us. There might even be one in us.
And obviously, there’s no one better than Jimmy Stewart to play the best of us, Jefferson Smith. As a non-politician transported to Washington as a thinly-veiled ploy, he’s a symbol of the purity of the common man. Yet set against the backdrop of a systemic culture of corruption, his high hopes are quickly squelched. He’s a big proponent of building a camp for boys in his unidentified home state; however, when it collides with the entrenched interest of the other Senators planning to build a dam on that land, Smith finds himself in hot water.
We all like to think we would do what Jefferson Smith does. He stands up for what he believes in even when it’s unpopular. He fights for what he believes in even when it collides with the wills of more powerful men than he. He is not swayed by fickle public opinion or the press.
Yet most politicians today switch their positions as soon as a poll suggest their voting bloc opposes their position. They might not be the best of us or even the best for us – just the best choice we have. On this election day, my hope is that the vision Capra had for an America where the average American’s purity can inspire real change in a sick society can become less of a hope and more of a reality. Regardless of what party you support, we should all aspire to have a candidate who fights for his convictions with all his might like Mr. Smith. And if you can’t vote for Mr. Smith, then be one.