Jefferson Smith and the Rise and Fall of American Politics

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Mr. Smith Jefferson works as a leader of boy rangers. He gets the leadership position through an appointment by his governor (under the jurisdiction of a state). He gets a chance to meet with the highest-in rank state senator, Mr. Paine. This seems to be a second encounter between the two. He (senator) used to be Smiths hero when the latter was still a child. While in Washington, Smith learns many drawbacks associated with the processes used in politics. He has the ambition to establish a camp for all the boys in the country, which leads to a conflict between him and Jim Taylor, the head of state politics. The conflict leads to a point at which the latter tries to bribe the former. This approach does not yield fruits and Taylor goes ahead and associates him with a scandal, aimed at killing his ambition (Van Zoonen, 2007).

Later, Foley, a senator, dies, and Smith is appointed as his replacement, by Mr. Hopper, the governor. This is against the fact that Mr. Smith has very little political experience (if any). Those around see him as so naïve, unaware of the many vices associated with top government officials, aimed at gaining personal material wealth. Before Samuel’s death, he, together with Jim and Paine were planning to construct a dam at a cost that would render the government account dry, all for their own good. With Smith at the deceased’s place, it was quite clear for them that nothing would go against their plan, and that was the main reason as to why they didn’t consider his political qualifications during the appointment. Other senators felt confident with the decision. His secretary, Clarissa, also sees lack of ‘political know-how’ in him. Clarissa is also aware of the dam project plan as she performed the same role as secretary for Foley (, 2014).

Smith is ready to use any available means to end corruption, a principle that is in total contrast with his fellows’. He makes a proposal into a bill that is likely to discourage the dam project plan. Mr. Paine and Taylor discuss the matter out and are planning to use means that will prevent the success of Smith’s proposal, even if the solution is to kill him. This becomes a battle of ‘who is better than who’, whether Jeff’s integrity could win over the political knowledge of the two ‘old-in-field’ type. Despite the significant support the latter got from the press, including failure to give accurate report of what Smith had said or done, and giving credit to most of what his fellow senators stood by, he ends up winning, when Mr. Paine, forced by circumstances, stands up in front of a congregation says it openly that Smith was, indeed, innocent (Alissa, 2017).

Policies in the Movie

The movie emphasizes honesty as the main policy. Smith’s characters portray truthfulness and a need to create lasting solutions to problems that face his constituents. He proposes the construction of a children’s pitch through ways that can be achieved with ease. The fact that implementation of the policy will work at the expense of the much anticipated (by his fellow senators) dam project pose a big challenge that is finally overcome when honesty ‘wins’ over fallacy. This suggests that the attainment of a significant societal progress can only be achieved when the policy is not compromised (IMDb, 1939).

Another important policy, though closely related to the above is general integrity. It is only with a clean reputation that progress can be achieved. Governor’s act of appointing a ‘non-qualified’ official as a replacement for Mr. Foley shows lack of the above virtue. The deal looks so good, but the fact that an important policy has been compromised brings them unexpected outcomes; revealing of most of the biggest vices associated with their government (a cascade on other instances of lack of the same).

Outcomes of the Policies

The above policies contribute greatly to the general outcome of the movie. Smith’s ‘naivety’ as the head of National Boys Camp suggests to the team of senators believed that he could be manipulated into their intended ‘form’. The fact that he had little political experience meant a high level of honesty/integrity for them. This meant a high chance of non-interference on their ‘areas of interest’. They believed that such an innocent soul, having no knowledge about the anticipated plan, could hardly table a proposal that would discourage the same from happening.

Smith’s honesty is the main reason behind failure by the other senators to achieve their egocentric plans. The low level of integrity by the governors and other senators was also a factor that contributed to the same. What if the governor was so honed to appoint a senator on the basis of political qualifications? There would be a low likelihood of unmasking the evil deeds by the government, such that the actor could find it hard to develop a character to achieve this and maintain its captivity to the audience.


 Alissa W. (2017). Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has become synonymous with the filibuster — for good reason.

IMDb. (1939). Plot Summaries. (2014). user reviews.

Van Zoonen, L. (2007). Audience reactions to Hollywood politics. Media, Culture & Society, 29(4), 531-547.

August 01, 2023




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