It is the greatest movie on politics ever made. Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington pre-dates Trump and Murdoch and modern Washington but it also predicts it. A Senator suddenly dies. Important decisions are already in the works. The political party decides to recruit a naive fool named Jeff Smith (I won’t repeat his full name but it as ironic as Capra ever got) to finish out the senator’s term. Jeff Smith is naive as the politicians could have hoped. But he stumbles on to extraordinary corruption and all of a sudden the naivete works against the political establishment. He thinks the U.S. government will naturally stop corruption when they see it. Of course they all already know about it, they just turn the other way to protect their friends. Jeff Smith holds a one man filibuster (where our misguided understanding of filibusters come from) hoping for a miracle. The American people will rise up when they find out the truth. The last half hour of the movie are some of the most chilling I have ever seen. Children are literally killed in the streets to protect the status quo. A Murdoch like character controls all information. There will be no miracle. Jeff Davis collapses on the Senate floor. Evil has triumphed.
And then there is that moment. A short is heard. The most corrupt of the senators has tried to kill himself in the cloak room. Somehow he has resurrected the one spark of goodness in him. Capra is not illusionist. The movie ends there. We don’t know what happened. But we can believe.
My entire life I wait for the Mr. Smith moment. One person, perhaps least expected, will recover a spark of goodness and change the course of history. I have been disappointed again and again. That is what we were hoping this time wasn’t it. When the news came out McConnell did not have the votes. We were also so hoping for a Mr. Smith moment. It was a fool’s hope. Irony died a long time ago. Frank Capra and the spark of hope he gave is in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington died today.