08012020 mr-smith-goes-to-washington-Columbia-Pictures

Jefferson Smith, played by James Stewart, speaks in front of the U.S. Senate in a scene from the 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

By David Kittredge

Oh, how I long for the days of political debate when pettifogging blatherskites held no truck with mollycoddling. No, these mugwumping legislators of old did not pander to one another but held fast to the “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” theory of political discourse. Plus, I just like using words like blatherskiting pettyfogger.

Take, for instance, the birth of negative political campaigning in the United States of America, when Thomas Jefferson referred to his once Vice President John Adams, who then ran against Jefferson for president, as a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Now that is what I call good old fashioned mudslinging. Adams, in return, called Jefferson “a mean spirited, low lived fellow, the son of a half breed Indian squaw, sired by a mulatto father.” Jefferson became so incensed by Adam’s statement that he hired a “hatchet man” by the name of James Callender to write pamphlets containing scandalous lies about John Adams. Things can get rough when political bedfellows divorce.

In later years, these highbinders of old, when performing a filibuster wouldn’t shrink to reading a cookbook or a novel, as has been done in the recent past, to fill in their obstructive time on the floor, rather they could prattle on for hours, ad-libbing an oration with genuine aplomb to gain time and perhaps, political leverage for their side of an argument. Remember the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with Jimmy Stewart? Although fictional, the film is a great example of Washington insider politics with Stewart’s character, Mr. Smith, filibustering in that endearing Stewart drawl and stutter.

Filibuster is a term coined in the late 1700s, derived from a French word flibustier which referred to the pirates that pillaged Spanish colonies in the West Indies. Flibustier eventually evolved into filibuster, to describe tactics intended to sabotage the legislative process.

With my sincerest of apologies to that baddest of bards, that songster of sonnets, that slinger of soliloquies, William Shakespeare, I will jauntily embark on a short filibuster of my own, using the bard’s famous soliloquy from Hamlet as a framework. I shall speechify in the unusual voice of a crooked Washingtonian lawmaker, who has become delirious at the end of their 18-hour filibuster, who unknowingly utters the truth.

“…and furthermore, I wish to declare that its

For me, but not for thee: that’s out of the question!

Whether ‘tis nobler in my mind to suffer

The slings and arrows due to my outrageous fortune,

Which I reaped whilst in office,

Or to recoil and take it out on a sea of bickering taxpayers,

Whom I feel owe me, just for my being me.

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That my constituents are heir to,

Could be nullified by merely raising the tax rate.

The insolence toward my office are to me

As the pangs of greed when my tax law’s delayed, again.

That patient merit of unworthy takes,

Which I myself might stealthily make.

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

Is not for me or my congressmen ilk.

To wee, or not to wee: that is the question.

Whoops-a-daisy,

Excuse me, whilst I answer the call of nature.”

And as our congressman scurries from the hallowed chambers, he chants a more modern soliloquy due to immense internal pressure,

“Ooh, eee ooh ah ah,

Ting tang walla walla bing bang,

Ooh, eee ooh ah ah

Ting tang walla bing bang!”

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