Growing up, one of my favorite old-time classic movies was “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.” Those who have seen the movie can still remember the character Jefferson Smith who was played by Jimmy Stewart in that classic role.
The plot of the movie was simple. Mr. Smith was appointed to finish out the term of a recently deceased senator from his home state. Mr. Smith arrived in Washington and was befriended by an old corrupt Washington insider named Senator Joseph Paine (a very appropriate name). As the plot unfolds, Senator Paine finds it necessary to destroy Mr. Smith as a means to carry out a corrupt plan to help his corrupt cronies. For the rest of the movie, Mr. Smith speaks from the floor of the Senate in order to regain his reputation and expose Senator Paine’s corruption.
Although “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” was, by today’s standards, boring, and a bit corny, it was a movie which reminded all of us that good could overcome evil. One of the classic lines from the movie was when Mr. Smith spoke to his fellow senators and said, “I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too.” I have always thought that that single line was a crossroads for Washington politics and was a long overdue attempt by Mr. Smith to restore civility and honesty to the public discourse.
At the risk of offending old-time movie buffs, and with apologies to Frank Capra who directed this classic movie, a movie which was dubbed one of his greatest, maybe we should remake that classic movie. Only this time how about if the movie is released with the new title of “Mrs. Collins goes to Washington.”
Yes, Mrs. Collins, Sen. Susan Collins, and the plot would be the same other than Mrs. Collins would be our modern-day Mr. Smith. For me, listening to Senator Collins explain the reasons she was going to vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice was a turning point for Washington politics. In less than a single hour in a speech on the floor of the Senate, Mrs. Collins did more to restore civility and honesty to Washington politics than any other elected official in the past fifty years.
For those of you who have never seen the movie, the final scene of the movie exposes Senator Paine’s corruption when he comes back to the Senate floor and admits that everything Mr. Smith had said about him and his corrupt cronies was true. The movie’s ending was a turning point in the corrupt Washington politics of the time. Our remake of the movie “Mrs. Collins goes to Washington,” like Mr. Smith, ends with Mrs. Collins standing on the floor of the Senate as her fellow senators applaud her for having had the courage to stand up and speak out against the politics of division in an effort for at least a moment in time to restore civility and honesty to Washington politics.
In the end, when they release the movie “Mrs. Collins goes to Washington” the one line from the movie which will go down in movie history as that one classic line will be when Mrs. Collins spoke to her colleagues and said, “We live in a time of such great disunity, as the bitter fight over this nomination both in the Senate and among the public clearly demonstrates. It is not merely a case of differing groups having different opinions. It is a case of people bearing extreme ill will toward those who disagree with them. In our intense focus on our differences, we have forgotten the common values that bind us together as Americans.”
Regardless of the outcome of the vote for Judge Kavanaugh, there is little doubt that as a result of a single selfless speech by a woman of courage from the common-sense state of Maine, we might just have witnessed that one moment in time, a time which will forever redefine the politics of division and return us to those good old-fashioned days of civility and honesty.
So, as I often do, I would ask each of you to join me on my imaginary mountaintop and this time help me shout a very loud thank you to Mrs. Collins, Senator Susan Collins, today’s Mr. Smith, a woman with the courage to say enough is enough; a woman with that old-fashioned common sense which might just return us to the good old days of “common values that bind us together as Americans.”
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington, Kentucky.
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