Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Public Service Announcement

Our Senate votes today at 8:00 am on the Health Care Bill—flawed, compromised, limping a little, but, if voted into law, it can be fixed. If not we have to start—again—from Scratch.

It's like going to the Hospital and having the Doctors say, "This one's broken! Let's start over."

The long arduous debate, that's been going on since 1948, has been particularly nasty this time, with political lobbies and moneyed interests, and stuffed town-meetings—why, it's mindful of the tactics "Boss" Jim Taylor uses against Senator Jefferson Smith in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," released in 1939, nine years before the proposition of America's first health care reform bill. I remember the first time I saw this film (in the days following the "Watergate" scandal) how timely, how contemporary, how wise and strong in the face of reality this film is. Released before the Second World War, it was argued that the film shouldn't have been made, that it would make our government look corrupt and dishonorable and bring "comfort to the enemy."

And 1942, when Germany put a ban on all foreign films in occupied France, it was "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" that some theaters chose to present as "the last picture show." One theater played it for thirty days straight.

So, just to remind our Public Servants (who won't read this, but you might) that they are our servants, here's a little straight-talk from the Junior Senator from...we never DID find out what state he's from.

JEFFERSON SMITH: "--We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights--"

(He breaks off, remarking the Senators relieving each other--dryly)

JEFFERSON SMITH: Well--looks like the night shift's comin' on. "--certain Unalienable Rights--that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness--"

(Finishing with a flourish and putting the book down)

JEFFERSON SMITH: Now, that's pretty swell, isn't it? I always get a great kick outa those parts of the Declaration--especially when I can read 'em out loud to somebody.

(waving the book)

You see, that's what I had in mind about camp--except those men said it a little better than I can. Now, you're not gonna have a country that makes these kinds of rules *work*, if you haven't got men who've learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose. And funny thing about men--they start life being boys. That's why it seemed like a pretty good idea to take kids out of crowded cities and stuffy basements for a few months a year--and build their bodies and minds for a man-sized job. Those boys'll be sitting at these desks some day. Yes--it seemed a pretty good idea--boys coming together--all nationalities and ways of living--finding out what makes different people tick the way they do. 'Cause I wouldn't give you a red cent for *all* your fine rules, without there was some plain every-day, common kindness under 'em--and a little looking-out for the next fella. Yes--pretty important, all that. Just happens to be blood and bone and sinew of this democracy that some great man handed down to the human race--! That's all! But, of course, if you need to build a dam where a camp like that ought to be--to make some graft and pay off your political army or something--why, that's different!

(Suddenly--with strength)

No sir! If anybody here thinks I'm going back to those boys and say to 'em: "Forget it, fellas. Everything I've told you about the land you live in is a lotta hooey. It isn't your country--it belongs to the James Taylors--!" No, sir, anybody that thinks that has got another think coming!

(He breaks off, and starts a different tune, apologetically)

JEFFERSON SMITH: I--I'm sorry to be coming back to that and--I'm sorry I have to stand here--it's pretty disrespectful to this honorable body. When I think--this was where Clay and Calhoun and Webster spoke--Webster stood right here by this desk--why, in the first place--an' I hate to go on trying your patience like this--but--well, I'm either dead right or I'm *crazy*!

A SENATOR (looking back and calling out dryly) You wouldn't care to put that to a vote, Senator?

A ripple of laughter. The gavel pounds.

JEFFERSON SMITH: No, sir, there's no compromise with truth. That's all I got up on this floor to say--when was it--a year ago, it seems like. Just get up off the ground, that's all I ask. Get up there with that lady that is up on top of this Capitol dome--that lady that stands for liberty, take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something and you won't just see scenery--you'll see the whole parade of what man's carved out for himself after centuries of fighting and fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so's he can stand on his own two feet--free and decent, like he was created--no matter what his race, color or creed. That's what you'll see. There's no place out there for graft or greed or lies or compromise with human liberties. And if that's what the grown-ups have done to this world that was given to them we'd better get those boy's camps started fast and see what the kids can do and it is not too late because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you or me, or anything else. Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here. You just have to see them.

All you people don't know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for, and he fought for them once, for the only reason that any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain, simple rule, "Love thy neighbor," and in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust.

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