English 345 (Blog Post #1, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington show us the corruption at the heart of the nation’s capital.  We see the intertwined interests of government, business, and media outlets on display.  We see the cynicism and political theater that Jefferson Smith faces as he tries to work for the people.

It leads to my question:

*Is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington an anti-political political drama?

In other words, do you think the political corruption in the film is normal Washington (“compromise” is what Senator Payne calls it), or can DC politics truly exist along Smith’s democratic ideals?

What is Capra telling us here about the state of democracy?  Can it be salvaged?  Is he sounding an alarm?

Be sure to reference specific scenes and/or details of the film in your response.

21 thoughts on “English 345 (Blog Post #1, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

  1. In Mr. Smith goes to Washington the idea of one man’s fight for democracy is pushed to the limit throughout the film. I don’t believe its an anti-political drama as there are sound arguments for both sides of the isle. The scene that sticks to my mind is the lost cause scene near the end where Mr. Smith argues that lost causes it what made democracy so great and the people that fought for them. Capra tells us that democracy is great but its because of the people who stand up for the little causes and that it can be salvaged. I dont think he’s sounding the alarm as in the end of the film they set towards the path of what Mr. Smith would call true democracy.

  2. I do not think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an anti-political political drama because, in most ways, Jefferson Smith conforms to the political norms, albeit with his own good intentions of “plain, decent, everyday rightness”. Of course, one could argue he only goes about accomplishing his goals this way, by proposing a bill and holding a filibuster, among other actions, because it is the only way that will be effective, but this only gives more validity to the idea that the drama is in fact very traditionally political. While Mr. Smith fights fervently for what he believes to be right, it is still a political battle that praises those who can work politics well and laughs at those who cannot. Moreover, the knowledge base Saunders has regarding laws and senate procedures, impressive for anyone, not just a woman in the 1930s, emphasizes that learning and dealing politics well is a skill that must be exercised and continually developed. Its importance is paramount in this still political drama. With that being said, Capra does send the strong message that decent democracy is put in jeopardy by bad politics. In the first striking example, everyone who hears of Senator Sam Foley’s death in the beginning of the film is so swept up in what it will mean for the future of their corrupt Willet Creek Dam legislation that they do not take any time to honor or acknowledge the senator’s life. Instead, they scoff and roll their eyes as if this really had to be the moment for the man to die. The scene in which Governor Hopper flips a coin to choose between Hill or Miller is a point of emphasis for Capra. By depicting a nearly impossible event of the coin landing on neither heads nor tails, but rather on its edge, Hopper is forced to consider the idealistic cry of his children for a leader like Jefferson Smith. Mr. Smith never should have made it into office, but the fact that he did shows us our goal should not be anti-politics but better politics, more informed politics, more open politics. If Jefferson Smith taught us anything before he collapsed on the senate floor, it is that democracy can be salvaged if we think about the people served by it and the next generation of people to serve under it. Abolition or upheaval of the political system is not the goal, but rather it is more empathic politicians who understand the sacred nature of their call.

    • Excellent response. You take a balanced and sophisticated approach to understanding the democratic spirit guiding the film.

      It’s when politicians do not serve democracy that problems arise.

  3. I believe this film can be seen as an anti-political political drama. As it is seen from the beginning of the film, there is corruption behind the scenes. From the governor to Senator Paine, Taylor has the advantage over them. This raises the question of if our government is really run this way. I feel it is, as unfortunate as it is, normal Washington. So long as there is greed, Mr. Smith’s ideals will never truly be the makeup of DC politics. Although it all seems grim, I believe Capra showed that there can be hope and that democracy can be salvaged. Mr. Smith’s time on his feet fighting for what he knows is right shows that there is hope. He fights against corruption till he collapses. I also see the children being on his side as hope. Mr. Smith represents the purity of democracy and so do the children. So, as they all wear his buttons and cheer for him, Capra shows that there is hope for salvation.

  4. I think that the movie can be seen as an anti-political political drama, though I do not think it necessarily reflects a realistic situation in congress, especially today. It seems a been fantastical to imagine that one brand new senator could topple a decades-old corrupt institution in the Senate as Smith does with his filibuster, though perhaps I’m just pessimistic. Capra definitely is sounding an alarm, but I think for the most part the film just brings awareness to political corruption for everyday viewers since, as I said, one person is highly unlikely to knock down something like what James Taylor had going (funny coincidence with the artist James Taylor, btw). As far as the film depicting “normal” Washington, it’s hard for me to say since we live in such a different time now, but I think that one has to at least hope that democracy can be salvaged and improved upon from what you see in this movie, because that will lead to improvement with some effort. Smith seems to come to this realization in his final visit to the Lincoln Memorial when he surrounds himself with Lincoln’s progressive ideas and is reminded by Saunders that he must at least try, even if he won’t succeed.

  5. I do believe that at its core Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is trying to be an anti-political political drama. My idea of an anti-political film is one that would claim the whole system is broken, so while I think Capra is trying to be anti-political he is doing it in a more palatable way, for a 1930s-40s audience that is, and claiming that it is not the system of ideals and values that is broken, it is the corrupt politicians who have lost sight of the hope and belief in American values that they were raised on. Smith is able to see their corruption because he never lost sight of those “childish” values, as shown by his association and devotion to children, and his seeming inability to talk to adults. Childish here certainly seems to be a good thing, in Smith’s case because it means he hasn’t been corrupted by the “political machine” that eats up young hopefuls and spits out corrupt adult politicians. I think Capra is trying to say that good ole’ American values and democracy are what made this country great in the past and it is the politicians now that are forgetting those values. This is why the role of children, in Smith’s life and in the courtroom and at the end helping to create newspapers is so prominent in the film to show the idea that every one of these corrupt politicians used to be a hopeful boy that was changed by politics. This is the very reason that Smith wants a boy’s camp so that they can keep the American values on which they were raised, but grow up without the corruption of capitalism and politics. But the idea that this country and its values were ever perfect is not one that I can agree with, so Capra’s argument loses me at its foundation. But again I think an American audience in the 30s would be very moved at the idea of remembering strong leaders like Lincoln that reinforce those American values. This is why I would say that this film is anti-political but certainly not anti-government. If we take the definition of political to be “relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics” we can surely agree that Smith and his childlike uncorrupt state is very against strategizing that isn’t done by the people themselves.

    • Love this phasing of yours:

      “hasn’t been corrupted by the “political machine” that eats up young hopefuls and spits out corrupt adult politicians”

      Also toward the end your point about the film being:
      “anti-political but certainly not anti-government.”

      You make some very nice clarifying distinctions.

  6. I don’t think I would consider Mr. Smith Goes To Washington as an anti-political film because of how much it almost romanticises Washington DC and the politics of Washington at times. On the one hand, it does show the corruption that has made its way into the political system, but on the other Mr. Smith uses the political system to fight that corruption. Because Mr. Smith ends up succeeding in calling out the corruption and shutting down Pain and Taylor’s plan, the message seems to be that it can be salvaged. Smith isn’t fighting to take down the system, but instead using the rules already in place to fight the outsider (Taylor) from messing things up. Capra may be sounding an alarm that if things continue the way they are there is a lot of room for misusing the system, but he also seems to be showing that it’s possible to fix these issues. The way that Paine changes his mind at the end of the film and confesses shows that things and people can be changed.

  7. I don’t think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an anti-political political drama because Capra shows that even though there is corruption, Mr. Smith is able to sway Senator Pain in the end into admitting to it and everything is resolved. I do think that what we see in this film is a part of normal Washington, but shows a very optimistic ending that doesn’t seem possible. Capra is sounding an alarm, he realizes that there is corruption in our democracy, but he also thinks it can be salvaged by the people who truly believe in it. The only way Mr. Smith was able to fight the corruption from Taylor is by using the rules of the democracy to his advantage and the movie shows The Capitol and The Lincoln Memorial as hopeful symbols of democracy.

    • Yes, and this resolution is precisely what genres are able to do as social ritual. We feel better by the end. The system is rotten, and yet the human spirit triumphs by the end.

  8. I believe that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an anti-political film. The film presents the audience with examples of politicians that can be controlled by others and politicians that will stand by their beliefs and cannot not be manipulated. There are figures that can manipulate politicians and the press. Taylor controlled what the press printed and deceived the citizens to believe the lies that were printed. The film provides a sense of hope through Mr. Smith, a politician that will speak for what he believes, however, there are people who will try to silence an honest politician. Mr. Smith is accused of attempting to profit off the boys who would send in the money for the boys’ camp. He is framed and almost expelled from the Senate. Capra is telling the audience that there can be corruption and manipulation within a democracy but there are also honest individuals that will not be manipulated. Capra shows that a democracy can be salvaged. The scene that stands out to me the most is when Mr. Smith goes to the Lincoln Memorial the last time, and the last sentence of the engraved Gettysburg Address was highlighted by the camera.

  9. I don’t think that “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” is an anti-political film. Of course, there are obvious signs of corruption throughout the film, but the film is not overtly pushing an anti-political message here. I believe it aims to show both sides of politics, where there are politicians who abuse power and feed into corruption and there are those who actually care and use their power for good instead of evil. The corruption is “normal” Washington, and I think politicians are forced to “check their ideals” once they’re in because of the way that bribery can control politics. The politicians who stick to what they believe in are usually pushed down and pressured to conform to the corrupt system. I felt that the use of the Lincoln Memorial in the film was meant to serve as a reminder that there is good in politics, and that those who are good will continue to fight for what they believe in and will eventually achieve it. I think this message can serve as a source of hope even today.

  10. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is nothing close to anti-political. If Capra were trying to make it anti-political, then he shouldn’t have put in the scene where the little boy speaks solemnly to Abraham Lincoln’s statue at his memorial, and he shouldn’t have made Mr. Smith such a hero with a happy ending. However, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington doesn’t shy away from displaying political corruption. In this way, I think that this movie has a pretty realistic depiction of Washington, D.C. There are political “villains” like Senator Payne and Jim Taylor who only want money and power, but there are also people like Senator Smith and Clarissa Saunders who are passionate about the power of the people. Capra ends the film on a positive note. Mr. Smith is a hero. There is hope for politics. Yet, looking at the movie as a whole I can see that Capra implies that democracy is in shambles. There wasn’t a real-life Mr. Smith in 1939 to powerfully filibuster at his podium and initiate change (and faint dramatically), but there is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Senator Payne realized his evil and reconciled his wrongdoings. Clarissa “yahoos!” in the most celebratory way. The movie’s satisfying ending isn’t sounding an alarm— it’s calling to action.

  11. I believe it is (mostly) an anti-political film because of the message the movie sends: The government is corrupt. Mr. Smith is seen from the beginning of the film as a “rookie” so to speak, among the world of politicians. He was elected to the Senate due to his popularity among kids, and the ideas that he presents are related to making young boys believe in their country again. His naive viewpoint leads him astray, with his first mistake assuming that politician’s have the greater good’s interest in mind. This is shown by Mr. Smith trusting the advice from his coworker, Mr. Paine, who is working with other corrupt politicians. We also see how corrupt the government is when Mr. Smith learns of this duplicity, he does everything in his power to bring the truth to light. This is the second way the film shows political corruption, when Mr. Smith is turned on my everyone else in the Senate. He is outnumbered by the great number of secret dishonest peers, and his credibility ruined. It is not until Mr. Smith stands for over 24 hours in a filibuster and passes out cold that a single member of the Senate (Paine) stands up and speaks the truth. It took the possibility of a truthful man dying in order for one dishonest man to “come clean”.
    The moral of the movie is that government employees have the advantage of power to make decisions that benefit them, and when there is opportunity to do so, corruption and greed will always win. This is because we live in a capitalistic world, and this political regime uses capitalism for its own benefit. This tells us that our current ideals of democracy are set up to fail, as long as people have the ability to use their power for consumeristic reasons.

  12. Jefferson Smith has a very idealistic view of politics and the government. He truly believes that he can make a difference in our society by fighting for ‘lost causes.’ While I don’t believe that that is realistic in our actual government, I believe that the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is not an anti-political political drama; I believe it supports the idealistic view of the government that Smith’s character portrays throughout the film.

    This film showed a lot of corruption in the government. Even from the beginning of the film, when they were choosing who to appoint as senator, there were threats made by some of the men towards the governor to try to force him to appoint who they wanted. This theme of corruption travels through the movie with bribery, blackmail, and ultimately the framing of Jefferson Smith. However, there is also a prevalent theme of hope throughout this film. From Jeff’s boy-like nature to the inspirational capitol dome, there are constant hints of hope that encourage the viewers to support the government and still feel proud and patriotic.

    This optimism is again emphasized when all turns out well in the end of the film. Smith’s determined filibustering inspires Payne to tell the truth and admit that he (along with Taylor and others) is the one who is actually guilty, not Smith. This leaves the film on a note of hope: the Boy Rangers camp may be constructed, and Smith will likely keep his position as senator and continue to make good changes in the world. Because of this optimistic resolution, I believe that Capra is trying to send the message that despite corruption and cynicism that is so prevalent in the government, people with good intentions, like Smith, will allow liberty and justice to prevail. The system is not hopeless, only damaged. Because of this, I actually believe that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a political drama that supports our democracy.

  13. I believe “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” is a political film that supports Democracy, at least from it’s portrayal on the corrupt and mocking Senate in direct comparison to good ole Mr. Smith and his few supporters.

    The film doesn’t try and sugarcoat its “dog eat dog” world mentality from the beginning, even when we’re following Smith’s starry-eyed idealization of the old fashioned American way. Smith is, by all accounts, an everyman, the simplest, average doe-eyed joe the average viewer could realistically root for, and is portrayed by both the Senate, the media, and the film itself as a child running around dressed in a suit and tie, with a simple dream of running a national boy’s camp amongst the more sinister and corrupt world he’s stumbled into—“an honorary stooge”, the media calls him. Smith’s bumbling about during the first hour is met with mocking laughter, jokes, and exasperated eye roll or two. Seeing him standing next to stuffy, stocky older men in suits creates a sense of dissonance, a feeling of “well, he just doesn’t belong there, does he?” in the audience. The media constantly chews up and spits out Smith, turning his honest ideals against him to make him a joke, and the film establishes just how power and political influence of the machine run by people like Jim Taylor corrupts even the most well-intentioned men like Paine or those on the societal bottom of the food chain, such as saucy Susan Paine, Ditz, and so on. Even Saunders mentions how her eyes are now “green dollar signs” whilst speaking with a media representative at the beginning of the film. Washington is, in Paine’s world, “a man’s world”, where the machine and paparazzi leech off the good will of people to make a profit and in turn, people like Paine are indebted to the machine and the strong political power that it grants them, or else they’ll be worse then nothing.

    Then enter doe-eyed, all American Mr. Smith, one of the scrappy boy scouts to such a degree that not only are children literally the only ones actively spreading support for him against the scary media giants’ biased reporting, but those children were the key to get him into the office in the first place. An idealist to the upmost degree, what Smith lacks in complex knowledge of the political sphere, he makes up in his earnest, genuine attempts at bringing together the American people against shamelessly making a profit or simply keeping his mouth shut like his fellow politicians. There’s a reason why Capra specifically highlights those three famous ideals of the Declaration of Independence during Smith’s fascinated montage across Washington: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Smith serves as a beacon of an earnest, genuine attempt to live up to those ideals in his own, simplistic way through his boy’s camp, amongst the mockery and corruption of his superiors. In him winning over the originally cold and snippy Saunders through his innocence and good-natured attempts at bringing together the public, it’s his first major step in a political world he may not have all that much knowledge about, but damn if he isn’t going to get that national boys camp idea off the ground. Even when he is faced with expulsion from the Senate and labeled a fraud by the media, he still holds his ground and fights tooth and nail to be heard, because a true democracy doesn’t cower behind corruption and bias, but instead listens to the state; and good natured Mr. Smith isn’t just a member of the state, but he IS the state: his goals are for the good of his people, instead of the greedy grubby hands of the looming machine.

    If the film was anti=political. if it was saying that Washington and the powers that be were all one giant, all consuming cycle of corruption and backstabbing, then would Mr. Smith really be the main character? Or rather, why would the film continue for another hour of him trying to plead his case to a cruel world set against him? If Capra wanted to spread a message of “power corrupts and democracy is a lie”, then surely he would’ve either rolled credits with Smith’s expulsion or make this a tragedy of an earnest man succumbing to the powers that be and becoming just another faceless yes-man to the political machine, and we already have a main character telling THAT story: Senator Paine. The film specifically highlights that Paine USED to be like Smith, and hence, why the former doesn’t want the latter sticking his nose in others’ business in this, quote on quote, “man’s world”. But if the film was trying to paint Paine as being in the right, that even good men will ultimately end up succumbing to the system of corruption, then why would it end instead with Paine instead breaking under the pressure of Smith’s unyielding optimism, in spite of the man’s frankly low odds of coming out of this in one piece, and outing himself, and thus that same corruption, to the applause of the state and Senate alike? It’s because Capra told a classic underdog story in which the state, the common people, was the unlikely dark horse candidate against the big, scary political machine—and in the end, they won, Smith won, and thus, democracy won.

  14. (First comment never worked, so I’m trying again)

    I think that one can see it as both an anti-political political drama, as well as not an anti-political political drama (basically I can see both sides).

    It can be seen as an anti-political political drama due to all of the corruption that happens. It all seems very possible. By that I mean I can see the conspiracy surrounding the dam, I can see people sending threats to the governor, I can see people falsely accusing another politician so that people distrust them. I can see all of this happening at any point, but especially in today’s political climate. It does seem to me like Capra was, in your words, ‘sounding an alarm’, and warning people of the corruption that exists.

    But, with the image of Mr. Smith, I can also see how he can be seen as a figure representing everything good about democracy. The fact that he wins in the end also makes me think that he is representative of democracy, as ‘democracy will prevail’ in the eyes of the America people (during that time). Also, due to the fact that the ‘bad guy’ Payne breaks out his gun and fires shots right before confessing, I believe that Capra was showing what will eventually become of those who perpetuate that corruption within politics. With people like Mr. Smith who fight until the very end, until they cannot fight anymore (like Smith fought until he fainted) Capra shows how there can be success.

  15. Since the 2016 election (and surely during the first Obama Campaign) the truth has been, for lack of better words, “under attack”. Propaganda in the 21st century may not have the same menacing presence as art-deco style illustrations and posters of the past, our new brand of Fascism is something somewhat harder to detect, which makes watching Mr. Smith with modern eyes sort of difficult. The message of the film often becomes muddied and flimsy under the sugar-coated issues our new senator offers to his constitutes. This film doesn’t tackle modern issues, it tackles a palate friendly subject matter. Of course the assertiveness, judgmental nature, and overall “magnifying glass” tactics that film employs were shocking and controversial for the time, but they seem unenthusiastic or empty-based with our recent political climate. I think at the time of its inspection, this sort of film was most certainly a warning signal for corruption, highlighting the systemic flaws in the America government; however, the point of view is simply out of date to the point were it may be promoting the opposite of what its intentions were. Montages that showcase an idealized America history, glamorizing less-than perfect men of character, wrapped in a patriotic bow of white ignorance. Again, I will restate that I do see the clear message of this film in its time, judging the government and its ability to be corrupt is a great message in my eyes, a strong message that was surely threatening to the powers of this era, but again, I must reiterate that the blind-trust of America as an institution is what somewhat hurts its message in any modern revisiting.

  16. I think it is hard to classify Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as a strictly anti-political political drama, because, while it does call out corruption in Washington in a way that feels radical for its time, it also idealizes American Democracy and the idea of good, honest politicians creating change through the established political system. The first images of Washington DC itself in the film are in a montage of patriotic monuments as Smith arrives in Washington, instantly painting Washington as grand and uplifting images of past politicians. Even as the corruption within the Senate is revealed, Smith never goes outside the system or looses is hope in democracy, which is why I would not classify this film as anti-political. When Smith gives his speech to the Senate, his main concern is getting the other Senators to believe him over a more established politician, not getting them to care about corruption in the first place, which implies that the majority of the Senators are good and honest and should want to reject corruption. The Senate President seems to be on Smith’s side, another supporter of honest politics. Even the corrupt Senator Paine, who helped to drag Smith’s name through the mud in the first place, is shown to ultimately want to stop this corruption when he admits to his crimes at the end of the film. Additionally, Smith is able to fight corruption through the rules of the Senate when he stages his filibuster (a moment that reads differently in today’s climate, after years of watching the party in power just change Senate rules to get what they want, including lowering the votes needed to overturn filibusters in specific situations). Smith is able to use a rule of the Senate to his advantage and defeat corruption. This seems to uphold the overall political system, implying that even “the little guy” can create big change and stage a fight against corruption within the current system. So, while the film certainly is notable for calling out political corruption, I would not go as far as to call it anti-political because of the way it still seems to idolize American Democracy. I think Capra was sounding an alarm, but a hopeful one, and fully believed the state of democracy could be salvaged.

  17. While watching “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” I was immediately struck by how much it portrays the “dog eat dog” world that we call Washington D.C. In my opinion, this movie is a political drama that directly shows support for Democracy, while also making light-hearted jokes regarding the pieces within it. To fully understand the extent to which this film shows the United States Government in a humorous manner is to start by explaining Mr. Smith as a character. Mr. Smith is a simple man, average at best, and is seen by everyone as a small child who is trying to play with the big kids. He looks at the government with heart’s eyes believing that it is the same great American government that it was before, being called “an honorary stooge” by the media.
    Excited and innocent, Mr. Smith stands next to older men, dressed in slightly tattered yet nice suits, that show the wear but don’t look ready to replace, and blatantly ignores the eye rolls, mockery, and jokes he receives. Similar to the others, the media makes a mockery of Mr.Smith, taking his ideas and flipping them into a sadistic joke that contradicts his original ideals.
    The film puts an emphasis on the basic inalienable rights, shared in the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Mr. Smith is an exact representation of these, which is his happy go lucky, pro-American, genuine love for his country’s ways, ignoring the corrupt and deceitful ways of those around him. Holding his head up, when obstacles are thrown his way, Smith uses his expulsion from the senate as an opportunity to portray the idea that the state is overall decent.
    The simple point that Mr. Smith is the main character fuels the idea that the movie is pro-government/ political. If the directors wished for this movie to truly serve as an anti-political film, they would make one of the greedy men in the movie the focus, exposing the corrupt habits and activities they chose to engage in.

  18. Although there are instances and images of corruption throughout the whole film, I do not think that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an anti-political film. The reason I stand firmly in that opinion is because of Capra’s use of the Lincoln memorial in the film. It seems to represent the presence of the hope of goodness in politics and the opportunity to fight for what is right. Although I can see how it might be idealistic, the film has a pretty realistic depiction of Washington D.C. and even casts a glimmer of hope for the deteriorating democracy. Mr. Smith is able to change Senator Paine’s mind in the end and creates the idea that Washington corruption can change.

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