Classic Movie Review: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)


Title: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Release Date: October 17, 1939
Director: Frank Capra
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

When I watched this movie as a child, I was gobsmacked by the depiction of rank corruption in the government. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about political corruption throughout US history, I just didn’t expect it in an old Hollywood film. For all the criticism of Frank Capra of making sentimental “Capra-corn,” this movie is cynical and dark. I mean they show flunkies of a political machine attacking children and driving them off a road, fer chrissakes!

The story begins with the death of a senator from a unnamed party in an unnamed state (Capra is very careful never to mention either of these things, ignoring the specific people and places where corruption thrived giving this movie an unfortunate “bothsiderism” undertone). The governor (Guy Kibbee) is torn between selecting a replacement suggested by his party’s political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) or a reform candidate suggested by citizens’ committees. His sons convince him to instead nominate a popular scouting leader Jefferson Smith (James Stewart). Since the appointment is only for a few months, everyone believes that the noble but naïve Smith will keep his mouth shut and just occupy the seat for a short time.

Stewart does a great job of portraying Smith, at first awed by the symbolism of Washington DC and the majesty of the Senate. Smith’s mentor and the senior senator from his state, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) advises Smith to work on some small legislation to keep him busy. Despite Paine’s public persona as honest man, he’s working for Taylor’s machine, and wants to keep Smith from learning about a bill which contains a dam-building graft scheme.

Smith works with his world-weary and cynical assistant Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) who teaches him how the sausage is made in the Senate while at the same time his optimism begins to rub off on her. Unfortunately, Smith’s bill for a national boys’ camp uses the same land as dam project. To cover their tracks, Paine and the Taylor machine frame Smith for corruption. Which leads to the final act, the famous and dramatic filibuster in the Senate.

This movie is considered inspirational, although I find it uninspiring that Smith only succeeds because he is able to make Paine feel shame, and then Paine makes a full confession. After all, Senators today won’t even apologize for mistakes they’ve made in the past, much less admit to corruption. In the past four years we’ve seen members of the Senate choosing to look the other way in full knowledge of corruption and crimes that affect the very heart of our democracy and the lives of millions of people. So I don’t believe that standing against corruption like Smith will change the hearts of the wicked, but I do believe it is correct to stand for America’s best ideals and what is best for the country, nonetheless.

This movie features some terrific acting, especially from Stewart, Raines, and Arthur. I particularly like the depiction of Saunders as an intelligent and independent woman within the government, something else you don’t expect to see in a movie from the 1930s. I also like Capra’s direction and some of the subtle choices he made to undergird his theme. For example, when Smith is reading the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial, an elderly Black man (possibly born in slavery) is seen in the background.

This is definitely one of the great films of all-time and one that remains relevant to our times.


Rating: ****1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 17


Throughline :: The Electoral College

The history of why the United States has a backwards system of electing Presidents and how it has been used to promote slaveholding and racism throughout history.

Planet Money :: Caste Comes to Silicon Valley

The constitution of India officially outlawed the ancient caste system in 1947, but discrimination against people based on caste persists in India and has followed Indian immigrants to the US.

Code Switch :: Let’s Talk About Kamala Harris

Evaluating Kamala Harris’ record on criminal justice as a prosecutor and California attorney general.

The War on Cars :: America’s Love Affair With Cars

Efforts to fight the deleterious effects of the automobile are often countered with the statement that Americans have a love affair with their cars. This podcast traces the origin of this term in an industry promotional program starring Groucho Marx and questions the validity of the “love affair.”

RUNNING TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES

Massachusetts: It’s Time to VOTE!!!


Today it is exactly four weeks until Election Day on November 3rd, 2020. It’s an exciting and terrifying time, but I remain hopeful. Voting alone will not help restore democracy and help make our country that works for all its people – advocacy, activism, and protest will be necessary as well – but I believe the results of the 2020 election can give us a big push in the correct direction.

I need my fellow Massachusetts citizens to do the following things:

Please share this post widely on social media and feel free to contact me if you need help figuring how to navigate the electoral system in you city or town.  I’m pretty good at tracking those things down.

Let’s Win the US Senate in 2020!


I’ve said it before and I’ll say again.  If we want to restore democracy and build hope for our future in the United States, the US Senate elections are as important and maybe even more important than the Presidential Election. Please join me in an all-out campaign to guarantee that the the US Senate will be under the control of Democrats and progressive independents.

This year there are 35 Senate seats up for election this year and 23 of them are currently held by Republicans.  That means there are 23 opportunities to flip a seat to the Democrats and create a strong majority in the Senate.  Below I’ve listed the names of Democrats running for the Senate with links to their campaign website.  Your mission is to:

  • Vote for the candidates running in your state
  • Adopt one or more candidates running in another state, especially if there’s no Senatorial election in your state
  • Donate and/or volunteer for the campaigns of as many Senate candidates as you can
  • Help people register to vote and advocate for your state to support things like automatic registration or same-day registration
  • Make sure that everyone is able to vote and have their vote counted by advocating for vote by mail, early voting, and sufficient polling locations
  • Volunteer on election day to help at polling locations and/or observe potential irregularities

If you are short on money or time, please target the 15 senate elections marked with in asterisk where there is a very good chance of Democratic victory and/or removing a particularly odious Republican from the Senate.

2020 DEMOCRATIC PARTY CANDIDATES FOR US SENATE

* Alabama: Doug Jones
* Alaska: Al Gross
* Arizona: Mark Kelly
Arkansas: Dan Whitfield (a progressive independent candidate because the Democrats didn’t run a candidate)
Colorado: John Hickenlooper
Delaware: Chris Coons
* Georgia (regular): Jon Ossoff
Idaho: Paulette Jordan
Illinois: Dick Durbin
* Iowa: Theresa Greenfield
* Kansas: Barbara Bollier
Kentucky: Amy McGrath
* Maine: Sara Gideon
Massachusetts: Ed Markey
Michigan: Gary Peters
Minnesota: Tina Smith
* Mississippi: Mike Espy
* Montana: Steve Bullock
Nebraska: Chris Janicek
New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen
New Jersey: Cory Booker
* New Mexico: Ben Ray Luján
* North Carolina: Cal Cunningham
Oklahoma: Abby Broyles
Oregon: Jeff Merkley
Rhode Island: Jack Reed
* South Carolina: Jaime Harrison
South Dakota: Dan Ahlers
Tennessee: Marquita Bradshaw
* Texas: MJ Hegar
Virginia: Mark Warner
* West Virginia: Paula Jean Swearengin
Wyoming: Merav Ben-David

Two states will hold non partisan primary elections held on November 3, 2020. 

* Georgia (special)
Special Election: November 3, 2020: Raphael Warnock
NoteAll candidates will be on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation.  If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff election, to be held on January 5, 2021

Louisiana
Nonpartisan Blanket Primary: November 3, 2020:  Antoine Pierce and Adrian Perkins appear to be two of the strongest candidates out of 15 candidates running including 5 Democrats and 7 independents!
Note: All candidates will be on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation. If no one candidate wins a majority of the vote in the primary, there will be a runoff election on December 5, 2020.

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 27


The Politics of Everything :: The Political Power of Protests

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw talks on police killings and the effect of COVID-19 on Black Americans, Osita Nwanevu talks about how protests affect public policy, and Patrick Blanchfield explains how the police use language to obscure police violence.

What Next :: How the NYPD Gets Away With It

The story of what happened when a police car hit a Black child on Halloween in New York.  Read more in this Pro Publica article by Eric Umansky.


Podcasts of the Week Ending May 9


What Next

How Extremists Capitalized on the Pandemic – White nationalists are strategically using this crisis to advance their hateful goals.

A Biden Accuser on the Latest Biden Allegation – Despite the Democratic Party’s claim to be pro-women, their presumptive nominee has a long history of sexual harassment allegations.  This is a big problem.

99% Invisible :: The Natural Experiment

Isolating during the pandemic sucks, but it’s provided scientists the conditions for scientific research not possible during normal levels of activity, such as: air pollution, boredom, vaccination, and redesigning cities for people not cars.

This Day in Esoteric Public History :: Coya Come Home

An historical event I’ve never heard of before involves Coya Knutson, the first woman elected to Congress from Minnesota (in 1955), and the letter allegedly written by her estranged husband telling her to come home.  Her election opponent used this scandal to win the next election.

Code Switch :: What Does ‘Hood Feminism’ Mean For A Pandemic?

Author Mikki Kendall talks about race, feminism and COVID-19 and the divide between mainstream, white feminism and the greater goals of women of color.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 29th


Radio Boston :: School Choice: A Push For Reform Or A Disruption Movement?

Education historians Diane Ravitch and Jack Schneider discuss three decades of flawed “education reform” and what should be done instead to provide equitable public education.

Fresh Air :: The Supreme Court’s Battle For A ‘More Unjust’ America

The Supreme Court is  not supposed to be a partisan organization but since the Nixon presidency, it has taken sides with corporations and the wealthy against the poorest and most vulnerable Americans.

Throughline :: The Invisible Border

A history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the agreement that brought a fragile peace to the region, and how Brexit may undo 20 years of progress.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020

Massachusetts Primary Elections – VOTE EARLY! VOTE NOW! JUST VOTE!


Hey there fellow Bay Staters!  It’s Primary Election time in Massachusetts.  You can vote early NOW and every day until Friday, February 28.  Details for the City of Boston are below and or you can check on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website for Early Voting opportunities in your community: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/EarlyVotingWeb/EarlyVotingSearch.aspx.

Keep in mind that Early Voting is available for all voters at specified locations  in your community that will not necessarily be your designated polling location.

If you’re not able to participate in Early Voting, or you’re a traditionalist, make your way to your local polling location to vote on Super Tuesday: March 3, 2020!

This excellent tool on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ website will help you 1) Find out where you can vote on the Primary Election Day on March 3, 2020 and 2) Show you who is on the ballots for your district.  Registered voters may chose to vote on ONE of the four party ballots: Democratic Party, Republican Party, Green-Rainbow Party, or Libertarian Party.

https://www.sec.state.ma.us/wheredoivotema/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx

Make a plan to vote! Bring your family, friends, and co-workers! Let’s make this election reflect the will of the people!

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 15


Hidden Brain :: Passion Isn’t Enough: The Rise Of ‘Political Hobbyism’ in the United States

How politics in the US is harmed by the “reality show” entertainment aspect of national politics and dearth of involvement in local politics where real power can be exercised. It even calls out Massachusetts voters!

Memory Palace :: The House of Lowe

Ann Lowe designed dresses for the women of the 20th centuries elite family, including Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress, but never received public credit for her work. Find out why she was kept as “society’s best secret.”

More than Enough :: Complete Series

A four-part series examines the idea of guaranteed income, or universal basic income, from the point of view of those who need it most,poor people.

Science Talk :: Kirk, Spock and Darwin

Interspecies romance is common on Star Trek but less so in real life. Find out why.

Throughline :: Becoming America

How the Spanish American War and the rise of empire lead to the people of the United States to call their country simply America.

The Tomorrow Society :: Nathalia Holt on The Queens of Animation

Interview with an author of a new book about women animators at the Disney studios as well as women who workef at the Jet Propulsion Lab

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020

Podcasts of the Week Ending January 25


Back Story :: The Real Martin Luther King: Reflecting on MLK 50 Years After His Death

Breaking through the softened, public persona of Martin Luther King to reveal the radicalism of his life work.

Best of the Left :: Our Longest War Has Been a Lie All Along (The Afghanistan Papers)

Back in 2001, I stated that a full-scale military invasion of Afghanistan, was not only immoral but a strategically unsound response to the criminal acts of the September 11th attacks. I have sadly been proven correct as the United States remains mired in this deadly quagmire going on 19 years.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: 4′ 33″

The story behind John Cage’s famous composition and why it’s more than a joke or a gimmick.

Have You Heard? :: History Wars: How Politics Shape Textbooks

How history is taught in schools is guided by textbooks, and the content of those textbooks is heavily shaped by politics, especially the government educational policy of two large states, California and Texas.


Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020