John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton


I spent most of yesterday convinced it was October 26. So let the word go forth from this time and place that the Beatles were named Members of the Order of the British Empire 41 years ago today, not yesterday.

One consequence of my having mentally skipped from October 24 to October 26 was that I didn't have the chance to post something marking the fourth anniversary of the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone. As many of you know, I worked for Paul for a little over two-and-a-half years. While I served on his staff, I grew to like and admire him very much, not just for his progressive politics and his feisty, principled defense of them, but for his genuine love of other people. During the twelve years I worked in and around Congress, I encountered a lot of politicians, most of whom were pretty standoffish. It's not that they were rude, necessarily; it's just that they projected an air that said, I want to be left alone. If you approached them, they could and usually would turn on the charm, but otherwise they usually just didn't bother. I only ever met two members of Congress who turned it on (toward me, at any rate) on their own volition: Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, and Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming.

And then there was Paul, who never turned it off. He would stop and talk to anyone: staffers, his own and those of other Senators; Capitol Police officers; janitors; tourists—anyone. Other than in private with his own staff (and then only rarely) I never saw him act any less than thrilled to meet someone, or treat someone disrespectfully. And people loved him for it. By the end of his first term in the Senate, he had become good friends with archconservative Sen. Jesse Helms, whom Paul had said he "despised" during his first Senate campaign. (A brief aside: I never met the man, but I once saw an eldery lady, a tourist to all appearances, say hello to Sen. Helms as he was walking toward the Subway to the Capitol Building, and Helms stopped and chatted with her for a minute or two before continuing on to wherever he had been heading. He was the very model of a courtly Southern gentleman, and while I hated his politics, I'll always respect him for the way he treated that woman.)

I think the Senate, and the American political community in general, is worse off for having lost Paul. Politicans who are that principled, that committed to their beliefs, and that respectful of their fellow Americans, are a rare commodity. Plus, it was always a blast to hear him talk when he was outraged about something, and the last four years would have provided him with a lot of material.

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