Winston and Rod

Winston was taking his owner on an exploration of some snow under one of the trees next to the Capitol when I walked out of the building last night.

He provided a bookend moment when I saw him.  One bookend was an article by fellow Capitol scribe Tony Messenger in the morning’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was about former House Speaker Rod Jetton.  Winston was the other bookend of the day.

Winston is an English bulldog who keeps Senate Majority Floor Leader Kevin Engler company in his Capitol office.  There’s something therapeutic after a long, sometimes heated, day in the political pressure cooker that is the legislature in going for a walk and inspection tour with a friend like Winston.  It’s good to have somebody like him around.

It’s easy to recall the words of George Graham Vest at times like that.  Vest, a former United States Senator (and before that, a Confederate Senator) from Missouri, delivered his famous “Eulogy on a Dog” speech to a Warrensburg jury more than a century ago. I tell the story each year on ACROSS OUR WIDE MISSOURI.  Vest told the jury that day:

“The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

“The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.”

Our only Missouri-native President, Harry Truman, put it more pithily:

“If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog,” or words close to that.

I recall a few years ago when Senator Danny Staples of Eminence was about to leave the Senate, a victim of term limits, he related how he had returned to Jefferson City to do some office work after finishing his work in his last regular session of the General Assembly.  He had cast his last vote, presided over his last committee meeting, spoken for or against his last bill.  Staples said he went to a local restaurant for lunch and when he walked in to the place he saw a table full of lobbyists.  Not one of them spoke to him.  None of them invited him to join them for lunch.  So Staples went to a corner table, and said that for the first time in years he had to pay for his own steak and beer for lunch.

Every couple of years, when a flock of new lawmakers come to town to start their legislative careers, they find themselves with a lot of new friends.  As time goes by, those new friends might pay them a lot of attention in various ways.  But when time runs out, when that lawmaker’s last vote has been cast, when the last vestige of power has been exercised, those friends often drift away quickly.  There’s nothing more that lawmaker can do for them.  It’s time for that person to buy his own steak and beer and sit alone at a corner table while his once-friends lunch and talk among themselves.

People in public life would do well to remember the parable of Danny Staples, which was brought starkly back into mind when I read the Post-Dispatch article about the rise and fall of Rod Jetton, who now is unemployed, unable to get a job–even as a garbage collector, he says.  His wife has left him.  He’s living with his daughter.  He faces criminal charges of sexually assaulting a woman.  The FBI has been doing some serious sniffing around about his dealings as Speaker.  A federal grand jury is believed to be looking into some of his activities.

“There’s nobody who’s going to step up and defend me,” he told Tony Messenger, “I can’t do anything for anybody anymore.”

Maybe he should get a dog.

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