At one point in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the legendary film by Frank Capra, the lead character (played by Jimmy Stewart) arrives as a new Senator from Illinois and finds himself sitting with his senior peer and the state’s political bosses. They tell him how Washington works, that for the good of his career he must get in line and feed the machine. His political mentor tries to soften the blow by saying,
“You’ve got to face facts, Jeff. I’ve served our state well, haven’t I? We have the lowest unemployment and the highest federal grants. But, well, I’ve had to compromise, had to play ball. You can’t count on people voting, half the time they don’t vote anyway. That’s how states and empires have been built since time began. Don’t you understand? Well, Jeff, you can take my word for it, that’s how things are … Now, when the (bill) comes up in the Senate tomorrow you stay away from it. Don’t say a word. Great powers are behind it, and they’ll destroy you before you can even get started.”
Translation: Vote like we tell you, not how you think you should.
This, not the famous filibuster scene, is actually my favorite. It’s not made-up Hollywood stuff. It really happens this way, amidst a long cast of characters that descend on the new Member of Congress. And every two years, when a new Congress is created from the hundreds of districts our leaders have sprinkled throughout the land to represent us, it’s our job to remind them why we sent them there.
(Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 – Welcome to Washington’s Food Fight, Mr. Smith)