Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
is a marvelous fairy tale
, an American Fairy tale.
The story of an idealistic young man who goes to Washington to become U. S. Senator by appointment to fill out a term. There, he becomes embroiled in the machinations that beset any political apparatus.
The great interest is the part concerning his fight back. Accused of the very thing he finds abhorent in the system, he filibusters the U. S. Senate. Fighting against all odds to get his faith out, he is countered by the very parody of a backroom manipulator who controls all the newspapers in his home state. Even when he gets the boy scouts to help him--he is a booster of, and supporter of boys--they, too, are felled by the media giant; this movie plays all the heartstrings.
The busy scenes of the preparation of the papers--the commercial ones by men; the independant one by boys--shows something of the battle for the hearts and minds of the public that is always raging. Jefferson Smith loses. His story, and the boys who try to get it out, are overwhelmed by the machine that opposes him.
On the Senate floor, he is finally given the coup de grace by the senior senator from his state, a onetime friend, and longtime tool of the machine, who brings telegrams from thousands of the state's residents who believe, not surprisingly, what they have been shown.
Mr. Smith, in the end, however, does not succumb; he gets his second wind, or maybe nth wind by this time, and appeals to his onetime friend. Then he collapses. But the other goes off the floor, and attempts suicide. Thwarted in this, in his suicidal passion, returns to the senate floor, confessing all Mr. Smith has said is true.
This is the fairy tale: the abdication of power. The rest, the organization of the people against overwhelming odds, can and does happen, but we so rarely hear of it because power controls access to the information.
More than this, power has even brought us to thinking it is only the individual's struggle that save us, from whatever we need to be saved from. Yes, there are leaders. Yes, there are those who provide the ideas we follow. But without the rest of us to organize, it will not happen.
I have been reading a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville:
Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led and they wish to remain free.
The most powerful propaganda is that which declares its service of freedom; that which serves what Robert A. Nisbet has called democratic totalitarianism. We must beware not only the propaganda that reveals itself as grotesque and naked, but also that which hides itself in the very articles of our faith, seducing us with sweetness.