Apr 11

Film 2Oh!!: Who You Gonna Call – Fillibusters!!!

Do You See4 comments • 230 views

18: Mr Smith Goes To Washington (DVD)

What I though Mr Smith Goes To Washington was about: Having only known it by reputation, I though Mr Smith would be about a small town bloke who, when raised to a high office, was disgusted by corruption a the heart of the political system. Nevertheless his innate goodness would find a partner in the democratic system, and his purity, amplified by the sheer power of democracy would show that it is not the system but the corrupt people that make politics so disappointing.

What Mr Smith Goes To Washington Is Actually About: How to win out by cheating. Yes Mr Smith is pure, and yes he tries to expose corruption, but the only way he does it is by filibustering. And fillibustering, ie talking non-stop until everyone gets bored and the deadlines to pass motions is exceeded, is not a grand triumph of democracy. It is cheating. It is deliberately attacking the democratic process, stretching the power of the individual over the executive.

Actually the end of Mr Smith Goes To Washington is at best contradictory. The filibustering doesn’t work, but then there is an even more implausible last minute save to pull out a happy ending (with girl in tow too). The best I have to say of it is that its a much better romantic comedy than it is a satire.


  1. 1
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Since filibustering is not breaking the rules but playing to them, it is not cheating but WINNING!

    Democracy is the process, not the diagram: and the filibuster is a triumphant celebration of a particular model of the machinery of this process.

  2. 2
    Pete Baran on 28 Apr 2011 #

    Of course you are right, filibusting is not cheating, it is an unintended consequence of the current rules. The problem is that Mr Smith wants to say that system is broken and exploited by the corrupt politicians, and does so by also bending the rules to ends they were not initially envisioned to cover.

    There are a few responses to systems where some unplanned for action ends up perverting the point of the system. One is to change the rules. The other is to celebrate the rules no matter how daft. Mr Smith Goes To Washington (and latterly the West Wing in The Stackhouse Filibuster) do is celebrate the role of the filibuster as an integral part of the the political system. Instead it should recognize it as an unplanned for perversion and as daft as defeating a bill automatically because someone can run around the room in twenty seconds or less.

  3. 3
    thefatgit on 29 Apr 2011 #

    Pete, any films about jerrymongering in your viewing pipeline at all?

  4. 4
    swanstep on 29 Apr 2011 #

    In general, a lot of things that are ‘within the rules’ are only appealing when they’re done by ‘your side’: ‘everyone can dish it out, nobody can take it’ is the moral.

    Consider protest of various kinds: a majority through its representatives has got the policy it wants much to the chagrin of a minority. Having failed politically at least for the time being, the minority now sets about trying to raise the majority’s (enforcement/police/general social and quality of life, etc.) costs for implementing its policy. A persistent minority (e.g., people who want abortions to be almost impossible to obtain) can in this way, over time, make their own preferences the de facto law of the land (e.g., by making abortion-providing doctors’ lives hell gradually making abortions unavailable across much of the country), or gradually become the majority by winning over at least the unprincipled/pragmatic who just don’t want to pay all the additional prices (‘I’m in favor of abortion being legal but having to pay for all of the security for doctors and clinics and all of the court cases that result is killing us…’).

    Movies like Mr Smith that focus on cases where some counter-majoritarian or political pressure tactic is used for good (from some favored perspective) are entirely analogous to shows focus on torture in the highly idealized cases where one knows for sure that the person one is about to torture is a or even *the* bad guy with crucial info. etc..

    In the real world, being pro-torture means torturing lots of people of uncertain status (including plenty of innocents), and being pro-counter-majoritarian tactics of various kinds means dealing with *everybody* arming themselves in this way.

    Lastly, if Mr Smith *really* wanted to support democracy in America he should kill himself after giving a speech on the floor of the senate about how ridiculous it is that his state (Montana or Wyoming, it’s never made clear – a big empty western state in any case) should have the same number of Senators as California despite having <1/30 the population.


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