In America By Heart, Governor Palin retells the story of the classic movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I ran across that account again recently when doing research for my review of Peter Schweizer’s Throw Them All Out. Her second book is filled with substantive, complicated issues, including our Founders, the Constitution, American exceptionalism, common sense conservatism, feminism, family, and faith, among other important topics. Nonethless, in the midst of all these issues of incredible import to our culture as Americans, it is most notable that she would begin this book with a synopsis of a Hollywood movie.
The Governor writes on page 2:
In case you’ve forgotten, Mr. Smith is about an American Everyman, Jefferson Smith, who goes to Washington to fill the Senate seat of a corrupt senator who died in office. The political machine chooses Smith because he is an ordinary man, a nonpolitician, and they think they can control him. But he holds fast to his ideals–the ideals of the American founding–and eventually defeats the machine. The movie was made in 1939, but its message is timeless: there may be corruption in politics, but it can be overcome by decent men and women who honor America’s founding principles, the way the American people do.
Jefferson Smith loves the words of the Declaration of Independence, not because he’s mindlessly pro-American, but because, as he says, “behind them, they…have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little lookin’ out for the other fella, too.” He understands that those words are a gift, not just to Americans, but to all humanity. But that gift is being corrupted by special interests and forgotten by Washington.
Americans love Mr. Smith Goes to Washington because it’s about an ordinary man who stands up to power and says, We’re taking our country back.
Having never seen the movie, her words, combined with Schweizer’s book, which uncovers the corruption so prevalent in Washington today, sparked a desire to see it for the first time, and so I did. It could have easily been a book set in 2011. The graft we see today in Congress–the so-called honest graft that Governor Palin has been highlighting and railing against recently–was as real and tangible at that time as it is today. Corruption is nothing new, and it’s not confined to one particular side of the aisle.
On page 261 of America By Heart, the Governor writes:
There’s plenty of blame to go around for how we got here. Americans know in their hearts that both political parties are at fault. Both parties contributed to the overspending and government growth that is robbing our children of their future. Worst of all, both parties are part of the Washington culture of entitlement. This is the corrupt mind-set that has members of Congress writing tax laws for the rest of us, but failing to pay their own taxes, and crooked legislators being caught with their fingers in the till, refusing to live by the same laws and standards as the people who pay their salaries.
For those who know the movie, Mr. Smith, played by James Stewart, managed to win a battle on the floor of the Senate; however, the battle for ethics in government continues to this day. If it were just a movie showing good triumphing over evil, that would be inspirational, but knowing the movie is just as relevant over 70 years later makes it a resounding call to action, and makes it all the more clear why Governor Palin is committed to helping usher in the “sudden and relentless reform” for all of America that she helped bring to Alaska.
To summarize, Jefferson Smith writes a bill for a government loan to build a national boys’ camp. The loan will be paid back through donations, and is highly popular. The problem is his plan steps on the graft scheme of corrupt politicians, which he soon discovers. He quickly becomes the enemy of what they assumed would be an easy opportunity to line their own pockets, and they will stop at nothing to remove this threat and destroy his credibility. He responds:
Mr. President, I stand guilty as framed because section 40 is graft! And I was ready to say so. I was ready to tell you that a certain man in my state, a Mr. James Taylor, wanted to put through this dam for his own profit, a man who controls a political machine, and controls everything else worth controlling in my state. Yes, and a man even powerful enough to control Congressmen–and I saw three of them in his room the day I went up to see him.
Though not the same scenario, the scheme in Jefferson Smith’s day to capitalize personally off land brings to mind what Peter Schweizer discusses in his chapter, “This Land is My Land.” He writes on pages 54-55:
Members of Congress have used federal earmarks to enhance the value of their own real estate holdings in several ways: by extending a light rail mass transit line near their property, by expanding an airport, or by cleaning up a nearby shoreline. Federal funds have been used to build roads, beautify land, and upgrade neighborhoods near commercial and residential real estate owned by legislators, substantially increasing values and the net worth of elected officials, courtesy of taxpayer money. Not only is this legal–by the bizarre standards of the Permanent Political Class–it’s also deemed “ethical.”
He names Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Bennie Thompson, Senator Charles Schumer, and (then) Senator Hillary Clinton, among many others, who have used earmarks to profit personally, and on pages 68-69, he writes:
Leveraging your power for a land deal is one of the best paths to honest graft.
But there can be little doubt that the political class is the only group of people in America who can get away with using taxpayer money to increase the value of their real estate, while declaring they are doing it in the public’s interest.
Again, different set of circumstances, but definitely the same spirit.
Even in 1939, the media played a large role in setting the narrative against the anti-establishment. Jefferson Smith’s good name was smeared through the help of the lamestream media, though, of course, that term wasn’t used. The media refused to report the truth or simply made things up. To boot, efforts to spread the truth by his young supporters resulted in vicious attacks upon the children. It sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?
Mr. Smith went to Washington to make a difference, but the people weren’t ready for the “sudden and relentless reform” he embraced. They deemed him unsophisticated, unqualified, and unimpressive. No doubt, he would have embraced the words Governor Palin so passionately spoke during her RNC speech:
I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country. Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people.
The same need exists in 2011. Crony capitalism, insider stock tips, land deals, and corruption of every kind must continue to be highlighted, and it needs to be stopped in its tracks.
America needs more people like Jefferson Smith, in whatever capacity they chose to effectively lead, who are willing to lay themselves down, to spend themselves, to be the voice crying in the wilderness–not for personal aggrandizement, but for a pure respect for what’s right. America needs more people like Mr. Smith who love the history of our country, who stare in awe at the Capitol Dome every time they see it, and who feel like ants when standing before the Lincoln Monument. In other words, America needs more people who choose to operate from a servant’s heart. In addition, America needs more people like Mr. Smith who, when faced with a threat to American decency and truth, aren’t afraid to call it like they see it, take on the establishment, and fight to the end to make sure corruption and greed don’t succeed in destroying the future we desire for our progeny.
Now that I have read Throw Them All Out and watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I’m not at all surprised that Governor Palin has asked us all to read the book and has named the film one of her favorites. Together, they shine a light on the ongoing battle for the moral, fiscal, and constitutional soul of America. It will, no doubt, be a tough challenge, but it’s one that’s worth it. The Governor is much like Mr. Smith in many ways, and like him, she loves this country, our history, and our potential–and she has given more than most to preserve its greatness for those yet to be born.
As Jefferson Smith states:
I want to make that come to life for every boy in this land. Yes, and all lighted up like that, too! You see, you see, boys forget what their country means by just reading “the land of the free” in history books. And they get to be men – they forget even more. Liberty’s too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say, “I’m free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn’t. I can. And my children will.” Boys [and girls] want to grow up remembering that.
(Cross-posted at MotivationTruth)