Friday, August 22, 2014

I'm Mr. Smith



One of the most evoked images in politics is that of Jimmy Stewart mounting his filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The filibuster was once regarded as "democracy's finest show."  There were many quotes that were "good for headlines" in that movie, written by Sidney Buchman and Lewis Foster.  Mr. Smith was railing against corporate lobbying, which is still seen as a scourge in Washington.

Frank Capra was careful not to take an overt political stance.  Rather, "the contest is between guileless virtue and the intrinsic corruption of business as usual," as Tom Carson notes in this article for The American Prospect.  Carson contrasts this with the overtly political filibuster Ted Cruz staged last year that garnered so much press attention and made Cruz the darling of the Tea Party.

No doubt Cruz studied the film, as did Rand Paul who mounted a filibuster a few months before, when he tried to stop the nomination of John Brennan as head of the CIA.  This was actually closer to the movie as Paul was drawing attention to the corrupting influences on Washington politics in the continued use of drones in the war on terror, even if he became hyperbolic in his concerns that the Obama administration would use drones on American non-combatants, which the administration had no intent of doing.  .

However, neither are hayseeds like Mr. Jefferson Smith.  Cruz has an Ivy League education, and Paul has an M.D. from Duke University School of Medicine.  But, both are junior senators who attempt to appeal to the common man in the same vein as Mr. Smith, or Lonesome Rhodes, as the case may be.

On the Democratic side, we saw Wendy Davis mount a filibuster on the Texas State Capitol floor, immediately making her the darling of the political "left."  She has since parlayed this showdown over a harsh abortion bill into a run for Texas governor.  She too appeared to be channeling Mr. Smith in her pink Mizuno running shoes.

However, the Tea Party believes it has the voice of the people on its side, and the background of its representatives does seem to be more in keeping with the country roots of Mr. Smith, who came from an unnamed Western state.  Like the Tea Party, the film starts out as a comedy, but all too quickly turns into a melodrama on the meaning of democracy and one man's effort to keep this "the land of the free."

The Teapartiers have been pushing this mantra since 2010 when they raised their Gadsden Flag and essentially declared war on federal government.  They gone after stodgy old Senators like Mr. Paine, although their success rate has diminished greatly since the midterms four years ago.  They still hope to dislodge Thad Cochran in Mississippi, but it seems they will lose this battle too.  Ultimately, Teapartiers will present themselves as "beautiful losers," as its influence on the GOP wanes.

However, Rand Paul seems to have risen above his Tea Party roots and expressed a more populous message on Ferguson in what seems an attempt to reach out to a broader audience.  We might just have our Mr. Smith?

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