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"Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore"

Independent Lens

I live in a democracy, but sometimes it doesn't feel like I do. For instance, I'm a registered New York Democrat, but I can't remember the last time a Democratic presidential primary was still "live" by the time it came around to my state. I had no choice but to jump on the John Kerry bandwagon in 2004, and now I'm being told to throw my hopes behind Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama for 2008, despite the fact that I'd much prefer to see a wider selection of choices.

The conventional wisdom says fundraising win elections, but the practical result of this is that corporations and private interests are "deciding" our primaries for us. Why are we allowing this to happen so blatantly, and what happened to the great American ideal that we (we, the people) run this country? This is no small issue, and that's why I bet every single person who watches the new Independent Lens documentary "Can Mr. Smith Get To Washington Anymore?" will root for Jeff Smith, a 29-year-old underdog fighting to win a Democratic party primary in St. Louis, Missouri, to win his difficult race.

Political campaign documentaries are always fun to watch (I think so, anyway), and this show has its peculiar appeals, including an earnest and smart lead candidate whose untrained voice has an unfortunate habit of squeaking during campaign speeches. He's clearly unpolished, and the fact that he sometimes resembles a young Jerry Lewis doesn't help. We see him struggle to define his own positions when facing tough opponents, and during one comically bad voter dialogue he tries to reassure a pro-life neighbor that they can "solve this abortion problem" if they can only fix education. Jeff Smith clearly needs to nail down his positions a bit tighter (but, then again, so does Barack Obama).

Fortunately, Jeff Smith has many strong points to balance his youthful awkwardness, and I do believe he has a bright future in politics. He's especially good at motivating and connecting with his staff of young St. Louis hipsters, who all cry unabashedly in the show's final scene. But I won't tell you why they are crying; you'll have to watch and find out for yourself.

Comments

Frankly, at the age of 29; I wouldn't attribute weak or unprofessional arguments to 'youthful awkwardness.' Smith is an adult and should be considered accordingly. I agree, that his positions on troubling issues are imprecise, and politically 'convenient.' His ideas on public education are just the ravings of an ill prepared, 'St. Louis hipster,' looking for the next political opportunity. His 'platform' is somewhat incomplete and perhaps illogical. While he attributes many ills of society to the need to'fix education,' he has failed to demonstrate (with verifiable proof), the needed transitions to linke all social ills to problems in education. For a college instructor in the field of political science; this lack of logical focus and refusal to use independently verifiable facts--only testifies to his incompetence or his political talent. Those of us with actual SCRUPLES will believe the latter, and realize that pols nowadays regard truthfulness, scruples and the truth as political impediments. In short, based on that definition--Smith is a true politician.

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