I Was Just Thinking: Mr. Smith Wouldn’t Go to Washington today

By Norma Adams-Wade
Columnist 

I’m more than a little irritated. Where is real democracy when you need it? I was always taught that America is a nation where if there’s a dispute or difference of opinion, well, you take a vote and the majority opinion wins. Not so anymore, it seems, in modern government, or in the halls of power in the nation’s capital. I don’t know about you, but I’m just so tired of the haggling, cheating, and finger-pointing that masquerades as democracy these days. Each side of our two-party government wears blinders to its own faults and unendingly points a finger at the other side, accusing it of the same sins both sides are committing. “You did it!” “No, you did it!” The nonstop argument goes. Then there is the loathsome lack of ethics. Win at all costs is what I see and hear.

Win at all costs strongly suggests: do what you have to do to squash your opponent. Act as if you are in the boxing ring, and if you have to rub salt in the other person’s eyes–do it. In the election process, if you have to go against the U. S. Constitution and get outsiders like the Russians involved–do it. If you have to cheat, bribe, do physical harm, threaten, tempt, claim “hanging chads” (look it up), use a dead person’s voter identification, ignore “one man, one vote” and cast more than one ballot per person, invent creative barriers like demanding that a Black person correctly guess the number of jelly beans in a jar before he or she can vote–do it.

Do whatever it takes not to win fair and square. Well, that dog won’t hunt in my book. Maybe my civics teacher was tripping when she taught the class that to obey the laws of the land was the right thing to do. Maybe my first-grade teacher was off base when she taught the “youn-uns” that we must share and “play fair.” Maybe my Sunday School teacher could not see without her glasses when she read Matthew 7:12 from The Good Book: “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them…,” which inspired The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I was just thinking…, Mr. Smith would not go to Washington today. I refer to the 1939 classic and game-changing movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington that set so many trends and turned so many corners in movie-making. The movie plot involved good guy character Jefferson Smith played by noted actor Jimmy Stewart. Mr. Smith is an upstanding, idealistic but somewhat naïve citizen of a Western state who is appointed to fill a suddenly vacant seat in the U. S. Senate. Corruption is all around him in Washington, but the Smith character resists attempts to pull him astray. He successfully carries out a lengthy and painfully-exhausting filibuster to block a corrupt bill from passing in the Senate. After much drama, his praise-worthy filibuster proves that good can triumph over bad in the halls of government. The question is, could Mr. Smith prevail today?

Is it true that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely? I want an America – and at the risk of being myself naïve, I believe it once did exists – where you fight like Ali for your side to win, but once the other side prevails, you shake hands, fight in unison for the common good, and wait your turn for another try at victory. I believe I will never forget Republican former radio political commentator Rush Limbaugh saying into his microphone after the Barack Obama 2009 Democratic presidential victory: “I hope he fails!” I heard it with my own ears. Mr. Smith, go back home. You could not stomach Washington today.

Norma Adams-Wade is a veteran, award-winning Journalist, a graduate of UT-Austin and Dallas native. She is also one of the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and was inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame.