I compromised—yes. So that all those years, I could sit in that Senate and serve the people in a thousand honest ways…. I've served our state well, haven't I? We have the lowest unemployment and the highest federal grants. But, well, I've had to compromise, had to play ball. You can't count on people voting, half the time they don't vote, anyway. That's how states and empires have been built since time began.
Doesn't that just nail it? Bosses don't need to control their politicians all or even most of the time. Machine politicians are free to represent their constituents on all but just a few key bills, and then they have to do as they're told. And the machine politicians can rationalize it because, most of the time, they're giving the people what they want, even though they're counting on people not to notice the graft they're enabling. Man, I spent four years figuring this out during my dissertation research. I should have just watched this movie.
Okay, so that's great. But I couldn't help noticing that Sen. Smith was basically the one honest guy in the Senate, and, not coincidentally, he was the only one that hadn't been elected. Apparently, the electoral system taints anyone who goes through it. I noticed the same thing in The Candidate (1972), which I'm showing my students next week. In that one, McKay starts out as a passionate, liberal anti-poverty lawyer. Then he runs for office and is told to stifle his true passions. By the time he wins, he has no idea what he stands for. Elections have ruined a decent man.
And isn't it the same thing with Dave (1993)? In that one, a cynical president who has worked his way up the political chain to the highest office in the land is struck down by illness and is replaced by a guy who looks just like him but, thanks to his lack of electoral experience, isn't jaded. So basically you just get a de-electorized version of the same president, and it turns out he's much better.
Look, I recognize that there's plenty in elections to be cynical about. But it really annoys me when filmmakers - and political pundits - speak about elections as though they were a distraction from good government instead of the cause of it. We heard that from the Baker-Hamilton commission last year when they insisted on releasing their Iraq report after the 2006 elections so as not to inject politics into it, as though the war weren't the crucial issue in the elections.
Jacobs and Shapiro summed it up best in their book Politicians Don't Pander:
Why has the derogatory term "pander" been pinned on politicians who respond to public opinion? The answer is revealing: the term is deliberately deployed by politicians, pundits, and other elites to belittle government responsiveness to public opinion and reflects a long-standing fear, uneasiness, and hostility among elites toward popular consent and influence over the affairs of government.Word.