In the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart’s character, Jefferson Smith, an idealistic and slightly naive man, is appointed the junior senator from his home state. Throughout the film, he appears to be out of step, behind the eight ball, but willing to learn “how the game is played” in Washington, from his sinister senior senator.
When the dirty business of politics and conflicts of interest arise, Smith defends his cause and is shown no mercy or respect and eventually slandered with false accusations. (Sound familiar?) He is literally brought to his knees when he faints after his 24-hour filibuster in the senate chambers. But the movie has a happy ending, owing to director Frank Capra’s belief that there is something to be said for this here democracy and what one person’s voice can accomplish.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, no less idealistic but with greater knowledge of the workings of Congress, was also shown great disrespect and temporarily silenced by an arcane rule, for reading historical letters from Sen. Edward Kennedy and Ms. Coretta Scott King, that voiced their concern for Jeff Sessions’ appointment to the courts in Alabama. These are letters that would allow for the robust debate the American people need at this time in our democracy, especially when it appears our independent judicial branch of government is under attack.
Even more distressing is the fact that fellow male senators rose and completed reading those letters without being subjected to that same rule applied to Sen. Warren. It appears that Sen. Mitch McConnell not only showed poor judgment in his decision to curtail discussion of a prospective appointee’s qualifications, but he has now opened a second front with his boorish behavior toward a female colleague. Perhaps Sen. McConnell would retitle his version of Capra’s classic as Woman, Shut Up and Sit Down!
E.G. Singer lives in Santa Rosa.
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