I don’t watch TV much but the other night one of those old-fashioned movie channels was playing “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and it caught my attention. I couldn’t believe that I had never seen it before. After all, I’m one of those retro people who watches “It’s a Wonderful Life” every December. I know all the characters, every plot twist, every line and still tear up when Clarence gets his bell.
So, I was casually watching Jimmy Stewart when I was electrified by the fact that he was introducing a bill in the Senate to create a summer camp. (OK, to be honest, he was proposing a “Boys’ Camp” but that’s forgivable because the movie was made in 1939—I’m sure that today he would be proposing a “Girls’ Camp” too.) I watched in amazement as he identified the skills and ethics the boys would learn at camp and pitted them against the corruption, greed, and dishonesty in Washington. And then he engaged in his heroic filibuster (really, who besides Jimmy Stewart could make a filibuster heroic?) based on the highest ideals of America.
As I thought about it later, I realized that maybe things have not changed so much in the 70 years since Mr. Smith Went to Washington. Summer camp still stands as an antidote to the dysfunction and partisanship of many of our political systems. The goal at camp is to build a community based on respect for everyone, an appreciation of diversity, honesty, and teamwork. The goal at camp is to learn to appreciate the natural world and to interact with nature in ways that leave no trace. The goal at camp is to challenge ourselves together and to achieve great things like climbing mountains or camping in the wilderness. The goal at camp is to help young people to learn the social and emotional skills, which will help them to become happy, ethical adults.
Is it possible that if every politician had a camp experience as a youngster, the tone and attitude in Washington would be more functional, civil, bipartisan, and inclusive than it is today?