I watched a wonderful movie last night – Mr Smith Goes to Washington. There have been countless people before me to comment on its worth, but that doesn’t stop me from musing. I won’t comment on it qua film, but I do want to comment on its message.

Someone told me that Ronald Reagan said every politican should watch Mr. Smith before they start working in D.C. I have to whole-heartedly agree, although my cynical side says that by the time they reach the national level, most of them are beyond help. But Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) wouldn’t say that. He wouldn’t be so cynical.

Modern film critics would probably poo-poo the movie for being too didactic, but I think there are some priceless lines within it — lines that we need to be hit over the head with these days. One of my favorites comes at the end of the film. Smith is addressing a fellow senator, a seasoned senator that has lost his idealism (if he ever posessed it) and has submitted to the corruption in the government. Smith gently reminds him of a message he once believed. “I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. [to the other senators] All you people don’t know about the lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once that they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule:’Love thy neighbor.’ And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine. … And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any others. Yes, you even die for them.”

As I watched the end of the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder how our country would be different if we followed that rule. Love thy neighbor. Sure, everyone talks about love. We’re supposed to love people who live or think or dress or act differently than us. Love has become synonmous with tolerance. But that’s not what Jefferson Smith was talking about. He was quoting a God Who is banned from public places like the US Senate. He was referring to a love that means doing the right thing, the true thing. Sticking up for what is objectively good and true and beautiful- no matter what. Jefferson Smith was not satisfied with tolerance, nor was he satisfied with submitting when the fight appeared lost.

I read a few reviews of the movie that described Smith as “naive.” Was he naive of the corruption in government? Sure. But was he simple-minded or gullible? No. He arrived in Washington in awe of his surroundings. But it wasn’t the big city that impressed him — it was the men that city honored. He came with the proper disposition towards the men who founded this country, who wrote our Constitution, and who fought to keep it free. He pleads with the jaded senators, “Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fight so he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see.”

I don’t think that hints of any naivete. He knew what America should be. He knew what was expected of him as an American senator. Of all the men in that chamber, he was the one who showed the most wisdom.

The other criticism is that he was idealistic. People call me idealistic… and say it like’s a dirty word. I take it as a compliment. Yes, Smith was idealistic. So am I. Being an idealist (an I’m not speaking of philosophy here) means standing up for that lost cause. In the eyes of our jaded world, idealists are wasting their time. But really, it’s just that we’re not content with mediocrity. We know things could be better, and we aren’t going to be content until they are. Sure, maybe we’re impractical at times. Maybe we get lost in our quixotic ways. But with the world we live in, I’d rather get lost in another one occasionally. Our founding fathers were idealistic. Who the heck thinks it’s very practical for a ragtag crew of farmers and statesmen to pick on the most powerful country in the world? But they had their beliefs, and they had their causes, and they had their principles. They had an ideal that they weren’t willing to forfeit. And no matter how lost their cause looked, they were going to fight.

Because it’s better to fight and lose than to never fight at all.  Sometimes you might just win.

That’s why I’m sick of people who say we have to settle.  Politicians are greedy and liars and fakers.  But that’s the way life is.  Honest politicians don’t have a chance because they don’t have the money and they don’t have the support of the media.  So go ahead and support the candidate who will do the least amount of evil.

Ugh.  Is this really how far we’ve come?  Settling for the lowest common denominator?  I don’t think Jefferson Smith would agree.

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