Comments on Andrew Gumbel's article and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ” June 2006

Letter t0 the Los Angeles City Beat Blog- Not Enough Democracy

comments by Richard J. Garfunkel

June 2, 2006

Re: “Not Enough Democracy,” June 2], first of all, FDR won four straight elections, not the three as indicated in Andrew Gumbel’s article. Where has he been? In actuality, FDR loved the film [Mr. Smith Goes to Washington], and the Congress despised it. In fact, in one Washington showing at the time of its opening, it was roundly booed and many congressmen walked out. The picture wasn’t anti-development, but anti-graft and corruption. Montana did not have a big-city machine – its senators were often Democrats in those days and quite independent. Thomas Walsh, a Democrat and a great Wilson supporter, who represented Montana from 1913 until his death in 1933, led the investigation of the Teapot Dome Scandal which was much like the situation Jefferson Smith was filibustering against [in the film]. Frank Capra claimed later in life that he hated FDR and was a Republican, but his New Deal-era films, Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and You Can’t Take it With You, were certainly not conservative-leaning. With regards to Truman and the Pendergast machine, that pre-dated FDR, whose Justice Department later sent Tom Pendergast to jail. FDR started his career as anti-Tammany, and his longtime political relationship with the famous Tammany governor, Alfred E. Smith, was tenuous at best. FDR was the ultimate combination: a realist with ideals, and he knew that to succeed he had to work with big-city machines. But the so-called statewide machine run by Edward Arnold in Mr. Smith was not big city, but big money! I see Mr. Smith as anti-Senate, not anti-FDR; and the Senate was controlled by a seniority system dominated by southern Democrats that FDR attempted to purge in the 1938 primaries. Unfortunately, he failed against many political Neanderthals like Walter George.

RJ Garfunkel, Tarrytown, New York

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