"Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington" is the second episode of Season 3. It aired on September 26, 1991. The episode was written by George Meyer and directed by Wes Archer. The episode features multiple references to the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, including the scene in which Lisa appeals to Lincoln's statue at the Lincoln Memorial for advice.
Thanks to Lisa's patriotic and winning essay in a contest sponsored by Reading Digest magazine, the Simpsons win a trip to Washington DC. However Lisa's faith in democracy is shaken, when she sees her local representative taking a bribe for a permit, to cut down Springfield National Forest.
In the kitchen, Homer goes through the mail and discovers a check for one million dollars from a Publishers Clearinghouse type company. Homer quickly rushes over to the bank and tries to cash the check. The bank teller explains to Homer over and over that the check isn’t real and that it is null and void. Back at home a downtrodden Homer is upset that the check wasn’t real, and Marge tries to cheer him up by telling him they got a free sample of the magazine, Reading Digest (Parodying Reader’s Digest) out of the ordeal. Homer takes a shine to the magazine after reading a funny cartoon, and a montage ensues. The montage shows Homer with his nose in the magazine at work, at home, in bed, and even at the dinner table; all while constantly praising the magazine. In the magazine, Homer notices an ad for an essay contest in which the winner receives an all expense paid trip to Washington D.C., but when he reads that entrants to the contest must be children, he quickly tosses the magazine aside. However, an interested Lisa retrieves the magazine and reads more about the essay contest, which is for children under twelve and must be pro-American; she decides to write an essay and enter the contest.
Up in her room Lisa, skims through her history book and tries to come up with some inspiration for her essay. After a few unsuccessful tries at an opening for her essay, Marge suggests that she take a bike ride to try and help her clear her mind. Lisa grabs her pad of paper, and rides her bike to the Springfield National Forest. She picks a giant tree to sit and lean against, and asks nature to help inspire her. With mountains sprawling in the background, a bald eagle perches on a branch directly in front of her and spreads its wings. Lisa becomes instantly inspired by the majestic sight and begins writing.
A few days later, after Lisa writes her essay, Homer brings her to the regional finals for the essay contest, at the Veterans of Popular Wars building in Springfield, so that Lisa can present her essay in front of a panel of judges. When the two walk into the building, Nelson Muntz is midway through his fiercely patriotic speech about the evils of burning the flag, which sends the crowd into applause and cheers. A montage ensues that shows kids, including Lisa, from different parts of the country reading their patriotic essays at their respective regional finals. As Lisa finishes her essay, the judges give her high marks. However, one of the judges thinks that her essay was too good, and that she might have gotten help from her parents. The judge confronts Homer and after a brief conversation with him, she realizes that Homer couldn’t have helped Lisa, and the judge gives Lisa extra points for having a less than intelligent father. The judge informs Homer and Lisa that Lisa has won her region and that they will be going to Washington D. C. for the national finals of the contest.
On a plane at 30,000 feet, the Simpson family makes their way to Washington D.C. On the way, Bart, after constantly bothering the passenger behind him, is sent up to the cockpit to be kept busy. Inside the cockpit, a bored Bart listens to the pilot ramble on about airplane technical jargon, and out of boredom Bart presses the button that causes all the oxygen masks in the cabin to drop down. Upon seeing the masks drop down in the cabin, Homer promptly screams, “We’re all gonna die!” This of course sends the rest of the passengers into a screaming frenzy. The plane lands at Dulles International Airport in D.C. and the family takes a cab to their room at the Watergate Hotel. Up in their room, Marge and Homer marvel at all the amenities provided; Marge is impressed with the welcoming mints, while Homer falls in love with the shoe horn. Meanwhile, Bart and Lisa hang out in their room and later at 2 in the morning, Bart prank calls Homer in his room, by giving him a wake up call.
The next day, Lisa and all the other contestants and their families, gather for a welcoming luncheon, as Faith Crowley, patriotism editor at Reading Digest, introduces herself. She gives the family their V.I.P passes, and the Simpson family explores Washington D.C. for a day. On their V.I.P. tour of the White House, they visit the historical one lane bowling alley where Richard Nixon bowling back to back 300 games, and they invade Barbara Bush’s privacy by touring the White House bathroom as she takes a bath. Their V.I.P. tour continues at the U.S. Mint, where Homer drools over the large amounts of money; The National Air and Space Museum, where Bart plays around in the Spirit of St. Louis; and the Washington Monument, where Marge makes and adult joke to Homer, regarding the monument.
The Simpson family tour of Washington D.C. concludes on Capital Hill at the office of Bob Arnold, a Congressman from Springfield. The family waits for Congressman Arnold, who is in a closed door meeting with a lobbyist, who is trying to get Arnold to support the demolition of Springfield National Forest. The lobbyist offers Arnold a bribe and the Congressman chuckles, as he tells the lobbyist that he has a place to meet for the exchange. Their meeting concludes, as Arnold’s secretary buzzes him and lets him know that Lisa Simpson is waiting for a photo op. Congressman Arnold puts a pleasant face on and hams it up with Lisa for the camera. In an aside to the lobbyist, Congressman Arnold whispers to him, “Tot shot always plays in the sticks.” Quick cut to Moe, who is reading the next day’s newspaper with a picture of the Congressman and Lisa on the cover; Moe comments to Barney about how great Congressman Arnold is.
Very early the next morning with everyone still asleep, Lisa gets up and pays a visit to the fictional “Winifred Beecher Howe” memorial for some added inspiration, for the essay finals that day. As Lisa admires the monument, Congressman Arnold and the lobbyist from the day before meet together, believing that they are alone. Lisa watches in horror as Congressman Arnold accepts a suitcase full of money from the lobbyist in exchange for some logging permits for Springfield National Forest. An angry Lisa rips up her essay and runs away, with tears welling in her eyes.
Lisa wanders around Washington D.C. alone and is torn about what to do with her essay, now that she no longer believes in what she has written. She gazes up at the Lincoln Memorial in the distance and decides to pay a visit to him for some advice. Lisa makes her way to the statue, but as she tries to address Lincoln her questions are drowned out by other visitors also expressing their troubles to the statue. She heads over to the much less crowded Jefferson Memorial and asks President Jefferson for some advice. However, Jefferson is upset that Lisa only came to see him because the Lincoln Memorial was too crowded, and as he begins ranting and complaining, Lisa just walks away to look for advice and new inspiration elsewhere. On the steps of Capital Hill, Lisa watches the politicians mill about, and laugh in conversation; Lisa suddenly comes up with an idea for a new essay saying, “The truth must be told.”
Back at the hotel, Bart’s room is full of empty food trays and a bellman brings him some fresh laundry, as he relaxes while receiving a massage. Homer peeks his head in, and when he sees all the expensive things Bart has ordered, he quickly angers and attempts to choke Bart. But, Bart quickly reminds Homer that the trip is all expenses paid, and soon after, Homer can be seen smoking a cigar while receiving a massage.
The finals for the essay contest are held at the Kennedy Center; a musician plays a corny little song and dance solo on the piano, about the National Deficit to warm up the audience. Faith Crowley introduces the panel of judges to the audience, and she introduces the first essayist, Lisa. Lisa is nowhere to be found and the audience begins to murmur when, suddenly a scowling Lisa stomps in from outside. The door slams behind her as she makes her way to the podium. She requests to read a different essay that she has prepared and Faith grants her permission. Lisa reads her newly written essay that is filled with anger and rage towards the United States government and divulges the information she learned about Congressman Arnold and his bribe taking. The audience gasps and murmurs as Lisa finishes her essay; one of the judges for the contest happens to be a Senate page, and he rushes to a phone to inform his superior Senator that a little girl has lost faith in democracy. The Senator gasps at this news and quickly a plan is put into place to restore Lisa’s faith and nab Congressman Arnold.
Within minutes, in Congressman Arnold’s office an F.B.I. agent poses as a lobbyist who would like to drill for oil inside Mount Rushmore. When Congressman Arnold goes along with idea and accepts a bribe, more F.B.I agents storm the office and take him under arrest. A short time later in the House of Representatives, a vote is taken on House Bill 1022, regarding the expulsion of Congressman Arnold. Shortly after the vote an intern at the White House delivers Bill 1022 to President Bush, (Senior) for him to sign. All of this takes place within a few short hours, just as the last of the finalists at the essay contest reads his essay. At the contest a brief recess is called so that the judges can tabulate their votes for the best essay and the Simpson family waits outside the Kennedy Center during the recess. Homer purchases a newspaper from a newsy touting the headline about the expulsion of Congressman Arnold and when Lisa sees the headline, her faith in democracy is restored.
Back inside the Kennedy Center the musician is back on stage, this time with a corny song and dance about the Trading Gap. As he finishes his number, Faith steps to the podium to announce the results that have been tabulated; Lisa, with her faith restored, sheepishly stands up on stage with the other finalists. Not surprisingly, Lisa does not win the contest, but she does teach Bart an important lesson, and the winner of the contest gives honourable mention to Lisa for reminding the public with her poem that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance to stand against corruption. As the musician plays a final corny song and dance number, Bart pulls out his slingshot and pelts the musician on stage, causing him to halt mid-song. Lisa asks Bart why he did that and he replies, “Lis, you taught me to stand up for what I believe in.”
This episode was met with controversy from the timber industry due to a major part of the plotline involving a timber lobbyist trying to bribe a corrupt congressman to cut down the entirety of Springfield Forest.