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COLUMNS

GOSHAY: Thanks a lot, Frank Capra

Staff Writer
Santa Rosa's Press Gazette

You probably have to be a serious movie nerd to recognize the name “Frank Capra,” but he’s partly responsible for the way we see ourselves as a country.

Capra directed films during Hollywood’s Golden Age, among them the perennial holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Another notable film was “Meet John Doe,” a dark treatise on patriotism, politics and the fickleness of populism; and he produced several award-winning World War II documentaries.

His films gave us a blueprint of America as we long to see ourselves.

In “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” protagonist Jefferson Smith is an idealistic, small-town, community activist who gets appointed to the U.S. Senate in the cynical hope he’ll be a useful idiot. It isn’t long before Smith, portrayed by James Stewart, runs headlong into pervasive corruption fostered by his late father’s friend, the erudite Sen. Joseph Paine.

Because he’s unwilling to play ball, Smith soon finds himself the target of lies and a misinformation campaign designed to destroy him.

To defend himself, and in a valiant attempt to remind the senators why they’re there, Smith launches an epic filibuster to the point of collapse.

His suffering is too much for Paine, who dramatically comes clean, nearly committing suicide in the process.

In 1939, “Mr. Smith” earned 11 Oscar nominations. In 1989, it was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the most significant films in American history.

It has fed what we’ve been raised to believe about our country and about people in power: That once confronted with the truth, they’ll do the right thing, even at risk to their own interests.

But there’s a reason it’s a movie.

Money and demagoguery have become so pervasive in politics, people who sincerely try to serve with honor either give in and become part of the problem or they get ground down and eaten up.

The president of the United States has been acquitted of charges that could have resulted in his removal from office by the Senate.

Though 70% of Americans wanted a Senate trial with witnesses, Republicans chose to ignore their constituents’ wishes.

Capra’s films were love letters to the country that gave his Italian immigrant family opportunities unattainable elsewhere.

But they’re fantasy. Thinking that we’re the America of Frank Capra’s films is the equivalent of only looking at ourselves in a funhouse mirror - until someone holds up a real one.

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP