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Donald Liebenson Headshot

Mr. Smith? Roddy, You're a Real Paine

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Proclaiming his innocence in interview after interview, Rod Blagojevich seems to be auditioning for a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, casting himself as James Stewart's naïve and embattled freshman senator, Jefferson Smith. As he told "The Early Show," "If you're asking me do I see myself like a modern-day Frank Capra movie, and I'm the Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper character, a guy idealistically trying to do what's right for people, fighting a system, and then be pushed back? Yeah, I see myself that way."

If I were a casting director, I would recommend Blagojevich for a different role in the original film that's tailor-made for him: Senator Joseph Paine, the once idealistic lawyer who sold out his principals to corrupt machine boss Jim Taylor (maybe Rod could play him, too; just like his hero, Elvis, played a dual role in Kissin' Cousins).

So, Rod, baby, here's one of the pivotal scenes in the film: Jefferson Smith, honest, incorruptible, and alone, wants to build a national boys camp on land secretly controlled by Taylor. And he wants to stand up and fight the powers that be, even if it's a lost cause. No, Rod, you're not Smith. You're Paine, who has to break his spirit and teach him the facts of political life. And, ACTION:

"Listen, Jeff--you--you don't understand these things--you mustn't condemn me for my part in this without--you've had no experience--you see things as black or white--and a man as angel or devil. That's the young idealist in you. And that isn't how the world runs, Jeff--certainly not. Government and politics. It's a question of give and take--you have to play the rules--compromise--you have to leave your ideals outside the door, with your rubbers. I feel I'm the right man for the Senate. And there are certain powers--influence. To stay there, I must respect them. And now and then--for the sake of that power--a dam has to be built--and one must shut his eyes. It's--it's a small compromise. The best men have had to make them. Do you understand? (Desperately and with greater emotion as Jeff is silent) I know how you feel, Jeff. Thirty years ago--I had those ideals, too. I was you. I had to make the decision you were asked to make today. (Breaking out) And I compromised--yes! So that all these years I could stay in that Senate--and serve the people in a thousand honest ways! You've got to face facts, Jeff. 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. Don't you understand? Well, Jeff, you can take my word for it, that's how things are."

Roddy, I smell Oscar!