I shared a love of this movie with my maternal grandfather, C. J. Sheeran. Grandpa always reminded me of Jimmy Stewart, with the looks of Ronald Reagan. One of our favoritescenes comes in the middle of Senator Smith's famous filibuster. It is a scene that has not only inspired a love of democratic ideals in generations of Americans, but has also provided Americans with a basic education in the nature of congressional debate. Smith is trying to get a loan from the federal government to build a boys' camp on some land that the corrupt political machine in his state, headed by a Mr. James Taylor, is eyeing to build a dam. Taylor has bought off most of Senator Smith's colleagues, but Smith refusesto back down. In the scene, Jimmy Stewart is on the floor of the Senate and he has just read the opening words of the Declaration of Independence:
Now, you're not gonna have a country that can make these kind of rules work if you haven't got men that have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose. It's a funny thing about men, you know. They all start life being boys. (I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some of these Senators were boys once.) And that's why it seemed like a pretty good idea to me to get boys out of crowded cities and stuffy basements for a couple of months out of the year and build their bodies and minds for a man-sized job, because those boys are gonna be behind these desks some of these days.
And it seemed like a pretty good idea, getting boys from all over the country, boys of all nationalities and ways of living—getting them together. Let them find out what makes different people tick the way they do.
Because 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 lookin' out for the other fella, too.
That's pretty important, all that. It's just the blood and bone and sinew of this democracy that some great men handed down to the human race, that's all! But of course, if you've got to build a dam where that boys' camp ought to be, to get some graft to pay off some political army or something, well, that's a different thing. Oh no! If you think I'm going back there and tell those boys in my state and say: "Look, now, fellas, forget about it. Forget all this stuff I've been tellin' you about this land you live in—it's a lot of hooey. This isn't your country. It belongs to a lot of James Taylors." Oh no! Not me! And anybody here that thinks I'm gonna do that, they've got another thing comin'.
Jefferson Smith loves the words of the Declaration of Independence, not because he's mindlessly pro-American, but because, as he says, "behind them, they . . . have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little lookin' out for the other fella, too." He understands that those words are a gift, not just to Americans, but to all humanity. But that gift is being corrupted by special interests and forgotten by Washington.
That's what I think so many of the people who make the big laws, run the big corporations, write for the big newspapers, and make the big movies today have forgotten. Americans love this country because it means something, and it has since the beginning. That meaning, many of us feel, is being lost today.