Wanted: A few good Smiths
Voted one of the best motion pictures of all time, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," told the story of an honest man (played by Jimmy Stewart) who was unexpectedly appointed to the U.S. Senate. On arrival, Senator Smith discovered the Congress and the White House were rife with money-grubbing corruption. Mr. Smith sets out to clean up the mess. (For those who have not seen the movie, we will not disclose the ending.)
If the GOP is going to win back the House in 2022 and the Senate in 2024, the GOP needs to find, recruit, and elect a bunch of Mr./Mrs. Smiths into Congress. But not just any Smiths will do. It has to be Smiths who will remain like Jimmy Stewart and not turn into the late Bernie Madoff.
This is not to say that all members of Congress are less than honorable. Many stay true to their convictions and they deserve our admiration. But, unfortunately, the circumstances in D.C. tend to produce more Bernie Madoffs than preserve the integrity of a Mr. Smith.
For example, the first thing rookie members of Congress are told by the Party Whips is to "Shut up and do what you are told." The second thing is: "Your next duty is to win reelection." To win reelection, "You and your staff in D.C. and back home must render excellent constituent service and you must raise lots of money. If you do what you are told, we will help you get the money." All that is true.
Washington housing is seriously expensive. Although Members of Congress are adequately paid, have wonderful health-care and retirement benefits, and generous office and travel allowances, some Members choose to leave the spouse at home and kids in school. So, some Members have a camp cot installed in their office. Nice government gymnasiums abound for showering and even for exercise.
If there is no time to read a piece of legislation or it is too complex to understand, no problem. The lobbyist who drafted the legislation will be happy to stop by and explain it to you. Washington is awash with lobbyists eager to make congressional life as pleasant as possible.
The work week in D.C. is usually only three or four days. Plenty of time to fly back home (except for Alaska and Hawaii) to see the family, see constituents, and stage fund-raisers. The airlines allow Members of Congress in their frequent-flyer clubs, they get priority boarding, often 1st Class seating, and priority deplaning where the Member is met by a staff car and driver to whisk the Member home or to the next fund-raising event.
All this first-class treatment is pretty heady stuff. So the tendency is go along to get along and, if left in the Swamp too long, before you know it, Mr. Smith starts to look less like Jimmy Stewart and more like Bernie Madoff. But it does not have to be that way. In a nation of 330.4 million people, the Smiths are out there. The trick is to get them elected.
Suggested movie: "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," 1939.
©2021. William Hamilton.