Monday, November 5, 2012

What Jean Arthur Said

"You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading 'The Land of the Free' in history books.  Then they get to be men, they forget even more.  Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders.  Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say, 'I'm free to think and to speak.  My ancestors couldn't.  I can.  And my children will.'  Boys ought to grow up remembering that."  ~James Stewart as Senator Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
Wow.  Today is Monday.  Think about it.  This coming Wednesday, our American lives will be different because of our American right to vote.  I've blogged this fact before:  When I was a youngster, I sat in front of the family television with my parents and watched Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington when it was a live special news telecast on CBS.  What did we peacefully march for in 1963?  Black Americans demanded the right to vote, the right to an education, to right to employment with equal pay -- even the right to use a clean public restroom without the threat of physical violence.  This was at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states.  Yes, I admit that there were tears of pride when I was able to vote for Barack Obama.  The blood of racism is in our American soil and history.  Look how far we've come.  The fact that we have the opportunity to re-elect President Obama is major American history.  I know my mother feels the same.  I wish my father could've lived to see President Obama's election.  Dad fought for freedom overseas in the segregated troops of World War 2. My mother, a registered nurse, ignored racial insults while visiting white neighborhoods in Southern California to administer medical care to homebound people.  Like my parents, I faced racial exclusion and bigotry in my adult years.  First there was nasty religious bigotry in my childhood because I'm Catholic.  Then there was racism.  Then there was discrimination due to sexual orientation.  Believe me.  I have had to tell myself "It Gets Better" for years and years.  And my feminist sister is my hero!  The fact that she hasn't gone upside the heads of unenlightened men with a skillet on a regular basis amazes me.  We like that President Obama respects women's rights. We like that he embraces religious, racial and sexual diversity and marriage equality.  We like that the President and First Lady attend Broadway shows.  They support the arts, the kind of arts and education you can see on PBS Television.

This is a critical time in our country in more ways than just financially.  We know that America did not instantly become "post-racial" as soon as Barack Obama was inaugurated.  In news images, we've seen Teabaggers hold up signs reading "Time to Take America Back."  The only people in this country who should hold up those signs are Native Americans.  They were here before the Mayflower landed.  I love the kind of USA that Sen. Smith filibustered for in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  The older I get, the more golden that movie is to me.  I love Clarissa Saunders played by Jean Arthur.  She's the smart dame in the boys' club, the insider who's become hip to how Washington works.  I understand the spine of that character -- how Saunders' battered idealism and political disappointments were replaced by a layer of self-survival and  shrewd skepticism over her seven years working in our nation's capitol:  "...when I first came to Washington, my eyes were big blue question marks.  Now they're big green dollar marks."
Jeff Smith resurrects her idealism.  That's what President Obama's election did for me.  That I lived to see a black family, a reflection of myself, in the White House -- WOW!  I'm so blessed.  I can't tell you how significant that made me feel.  Let's see what Wednesday's headlines say.  In the meantime, I'll continue to hold dear Frank Capra's 1939 classic -- especially the inspirational words from Clarissa Saunders to Sen. Smith when he felt defeated by dishonest, dark political forces and was ready to give up:
Saunders:  "...You can't quit now.  Not you.  They aren't all Taylors and Paines in Washington.  That kind just throw big shadows, that's all.  You didn't just have faith in Paine or any living man.  You had faith in something bigger than that.  You had plain, decent, everyday, common rightness.  And this country could use some of that.  Yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world.  A lot of it."

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington -- a classic that should be aired on one of the three senior networks once a year in prime It's A Wonderful Life.

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