The Politics of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
Acton Institute Powerblog

The Politics of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

wonderfullife600_3-480x309Frank Capra’s ‘It’s Wonderful Life’ is one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s a Christmas classic and also—as I’ve always thought—a conservative classic, a film whose themes align closely with traditional conservatism.

But not everyone agrees on the politics of Bedford Falls. Keith Miller and Chris Schaefer debate whether themes of the movie lean more liberal or more conservative. Naturally, I agree with Miller’s small government assessment:

The movie exults in the way the Bailey Building & Loan helps Mr. Martini escape Potter’s rental slums. [Schaefer] suggest that scene would be a comeuppance to those dastardly anti-New Deal Republicans who opposed the enactment of Fannie Mae. Actually, I bet those Republicans supported the end of the policy–getting folks into their own homes–and merely objected to the efficiency or constitutionality of the means. To see it your way is like maintaining that today’s GOP is against children eating lunch and that a movie showing a non-governmental actor providing lunch to hungry kids would be a real dig against conservatives.

On the contrary, when I see the Bailey Building & Loan helping folks escape the slums, I see a for-profit company improving the lives of its customers. When I see George foregoing his honeymoon and keeping the Building & Loan afloat through the bank run, I see the entrepreneurial genius benefiting everyone around him. When I see George providing private charity to Violet (or even the otherwise unemployable Uncle Billy), I see a demonstration of how a freer market with less of a public safety net would actually work.

Who needs Fannie Mae, the FDIC, or even Social Security when you’ve got George Bailey?

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).