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It’s a Wonderful Life: Christmas Story and American Allegory

I haven't rewatched It's a Wonderful Life yet this year, but I get a little verklempt just thinking about it.

I wonder if maybe we ought to show Frank Capra's masterpiece on July 4 as well as Christmas.

Robert Reich gets that Frank Capra was telling us much more than "Merry Christmas":

...we are still in danger of the “Pottersville” Capra saw as the consequence of what happens when Americans fail to join together and forget the meaning of the public good.

If Lionel Barrymore’s “Mr. Potter” were alive today he’d call himself a “job creator” and condemn George Bailey as a socialist. He’d be financing a fleet of lobbyists to get lower taxes on multi-millionaires like himself, overturn environmental laws, trample on workers’ rights, and shred social safety nets. He’d fight any form of gun control. He’d want the citizens of Pottersville to be economically insecure – living paycheck to paycheck and worried about losing their jobs – so they’d be dependent on his good graces.

The Mr. Potters are still alive and well in America, threatening our democracy with their money and our common morality with their greed.

Call me naive or sentimental but I still believe the George Baileys will continue to win this contest. They know we’re all in it together, and that if we succumb to the bullying selfishness of the Potters we lose America and relinquish the future [Robert Reich, "Where Are We Heading—Bedford Falls or Pottersville?" blog, 2012.12.22].

As you watch tonight, think about two of the most jarring parts of George Bailey's otherworld experience. In Pottersville, fear withers and overwhelms Mary. Fear makes her timid and nearly unrecognizable.

And then Bert, the man who in Bedford Falls serenades George and Mary on their honeymoon, opens fire on the friend he does not know. In Pottersville, when a man needs help, bullets fly in a public square.

It's a Wonderful Life addresses faith in God, but it's more about faith in our fellow Americans. It's a call to stand against fear and greed. It's a call to live the Christmas spirit in all of our business and civic affairs.

Watch tonight, 7 p.m. Central on KDLT, 7 p.m. Mountain on KNBN,


  1. Dougal 2012.12.24

    Thomas Frank's book on Washington "The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation" details how methodically the deep-pocketed Conservative hierarchy in our nation has gorged on your taxes and on lobbying favors over the decades. What you see Boehner's and McConnell's Republicans doing right now is to keep this giant machine alive for another (unanticipated) Obama term. They don't care about farm bills, alternative energy incentives, social programs, who suffers from rolling off the fiscal cliff, ruining America's bond rating or improving employment prospects. All they care about is serving their billionaire overlords so they can continue the feast on K Street. There is no vision, other than how the pilfering can continue for their very, very rich and powerful pals.

  2. Joseph G Thompson 2012.12.24

    We have given in to the fear spread by both Democrats and Republicans and embraced greed as a national creed at all social and economic levels. The ultra financially successful want more and the less successful economicly,instead of attempting to help themselves, feel it is their right to have what the economically sucessfull have earned. Merry Christmas and embrace the suck.

  3. Michael Black 2012.12.24

    I do not have to embrace the suck. Americans should not have to continue to endure the embarrassment of the past generation of fiscal mismanagement and negligence. This is the money you have. This is the money you can spend.

  4. Rorschach 2012.12.24

    It is easy to see how the Republican Party serves Mr. Potter and those like him. The Democratic Party by and large still serves the rest of Bedford Falls.

    To the Republican party it's every man, woman, and child for themselves. Survival of the fittest. The more wealthy you are, the more fit. So the wealthy get lower tax rates. The poor (unfit) get ... well, whatever they can get for themselves.

  5. mike 2012.12.24

    Funny thing you guys don't realize is that Frank Capra was a life long conservative Republican who never voted for FDR.

    Political phylosophy goes much farther beyond our current focus of R and D.

    There are many principles that Cory Heidelberger advocates that go beyond the spectrum of conservative and liberal. Deep at our core should be the focus of others in our society who need a hand up.

  6. Eve Fisher 2012.12.24

    Actually, I don't know any less economically successful who are not trying to help themselves and trying to rip off what the wealthy have earned. What I see is people trying, desperately, to survive. Oh, and, when possible, make sure that the ultra-wealthy don't gerrymander everything their way. That giant sucking sound has been, for the last few years, the sound of most of the wealth going up to the top 1%, and by no means legitimately. Lobbying, bail-outs, tax breaks, have mostly served the ultra-wealthy. Asking for fair taxes, fair laws, and fair regulations is not asking for a hand-out, it's asking for equal opportunity to be reinstated.

  7. Donald Pay 2012.12.25

    Below is a monologue from "It's a Wonderful Life." See how much of this would stick in the throat of modern day conservatives.

    These are moral values, but not necessarily conservative or liberal ones. It's pretty much the values America had coming out of WWII, the belief in the little guy, and in moral businessmen who used their enterprises as a way to lift all people, rather than just a few. These values led to strong unionization, higher tax rates and civil rights. These are values conservatives have forgotten, and don't hold today, and which liberals today champion.

    “Just a minute… just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why, in the 25 years since he and his brother, Uncle Billy, started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.25

    That's the video above. So powerful. Thank you for the transcript, Donald!

  9. Charlie Johnson 2012.12.25

    When our value system returns to emphasis on "We" rather than "me", then we will see progress start again and our economy turn better. Until then we will continue to focus on greed rather than human need. All too often in today's political word, the words I and me are used too often in reference to personal accomplishment.

  10. larry kurtz 2012.12.31

    Oops, my error: psychopaths and not what i said. Happy Gregorian calendar day!

  11. grudznick 2012.12.31

    And a grand One-Week until the 126th Anniversary of the signing of the Dawes Act to all!

  12. grudznick 2012.12.31

    Thanks to those of you emailing me with the correct dates. This noggin' of mine has trouble with calendars.

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