WWGBD: What Would George Bailey Do?

Over the holidays, it can be tempting to take a break from political conversations for a few days while you curl up by the fire and watch classic Christmas movies with your family.  Fortunately, you don’t have to choose one or the other if you watch It’s A Wonderful Life America’s greatest liberal holiday film.

Frank Capra’s beloved tale of George Bailey and Bedford Falls is a political story that resonates today. The good guy: a community lender who supports his neighbors, puts others ahead of himself and helps folks build homes and live out their dreams. The bad guy: the big banker in the town whose greed knows no bounds.

Sound familiar?

Watching the film, as we did at the Living Liberally Holiday Shindig this week, reminded everybody that sometimes right-and-wrong is pretty clear. It is wrong to manipulate markets, prey upon panic and take advantage of instability, as Mr. Potter (played to the villainous hilt by Lionel Barrymore) does without regard for the welfare of the community. It is right to help keep people in their homes and to support your neighbors in times of trouble, which George Bailey (portrayed by James Stewart) does despite personal sacrifice, and without any financial reward.

This should be obvious, right?  So why do we keep letting the bad guys off the hook?  In the current foreclosure fraud mess – which is inextricably tied to the mortgage scandal and entire banking crisis – the big banks haven’t been held accountable for the problems their unchecked greed has created. Meanwhile, widespread foreclosures are creating Pottervilles, the slums owned by Mr. Potter, across the United States. Yet the Mr. Potters of our time are not only off the hook, but raking in big bonuses and getting the gift of extended tax cuts.

So, this holiday season, let’s ask ourselves, “WWGBD – What Would George Bailey Do?”  We know he would never evict a family from their home.  If our legislators had the courage to put a moratorium on foreclosures until this mess is cleared up, or if sheriffs refused to execute foreclosure orders, they’d all be living in the spirit of the Baileys of Bedford Falls.

The film reminds us that part of our job, as members of a community, is to look out for each other.  If we contribute what we can and only use what we need, we can create a compassionate financial system and sustainable communities. In the famous bank-run scene, George Bailey offers this lesson in civics and finance as he tries to quell the panic, stave off bankruptcy and support his neighbors.  It’s a 7-minute clip, and every minute is worth watching again.

George Bailey may not be the wealthiest businessman, but in the words of his community’s toast to him, he is “the richest man in Bedford Falls.”  Even if banks today aren’t ready to ask, “WWGBD?” and our politicians aren’t ready to follow his lead, we can at least share his story this season.

And if you have no idea what this post is about, I highly recommend watching the movie and judging for yourself.  It will be playing 8pm on Friday, the 24th, on NBC, or is otherwise available through any video store or online distributor. Set aside a couple hours and take a sup of politics with your holiday.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."