Mark Twain was no fan of politicians. He thought they were crooks. He probably would have wanted no part of the honor bestowed upon him by former Missouri Speaker of the House Bob Griffin in 1982.
Mr. Twain, aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was the inaugural member of the Hall of Famous Missourians. Generally, the hall is populated by Missouri's favorite sons and daughters. Honors are chosen by the speaker of the House.
That Mr. Griffin, a Democrat, later would go to jail for bribery and mail fraud, fulfilling Mr. Twain's analysis that "public office is private graft," is fitting.
On Monday, when the latest speaker of the House, Republican Steve Tilley of Perryville, closed the House chambers to the public while inducting talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh into the same hall that contains a bust of Mr. Twain, a quotation from Mr. Twain's autobiography came to mind:
"To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals."
Mr. Tilley presides over a decidedly partisan House controlled by enough Republicans to render Democrats superfluous. The results have been devastating. Bills that many people in Mr. Tilley's party not long ago would have considered fringe proposals are passing handily. Democrats' and moderates' proposals are safely tucked away in the Speaker's desk, never to see the light of day.
That Mr. Tilley would sell his soul to Mr. Limbaugh and offer a place in the Capitol rotunda for his likeness is hardly surprising. In fact, it's oddly appropriate; history will record that under Mr. Tilley's watch, the discourse in the House has not been too different from the sort of bile that is a regular feature of Mr. Limbaugh's show. Still, no House member has yet publicly called a woman a "slut," as Mr. Limbaugh did in March.
We suspect Mr. Twain would welcome Mr. Limbaugh to the hall, as the presence of both men paints politics in the most cynical light.
But no Missourian should accept the decision by one of our state's most powerful elected officials to post armed officers paid for by taxpayers at the public entrances of the House galleries so that Mr. Tilley and Mr. Limbaugh could hold a private, partisan pep rally.
The People's House is worth more than that.
It should not be sold to the highest bidder.
Closing the chamber to all but selected Republicans who were invited for what ostensibly is a public event and then asking members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol to bar the public from the stately chamber that belongs to them is beyond arrogant. It's insulting.
So, too, was Mr. Limbaugh's reference, from the House dais no less, to the Democrats who were locked out of the chambers as "deranged." That classless move firmly chiseled Mr. Tilley's legacy into state history. He won't need a bust.
Mr. Tilley forever will be known as the man who turned what lawmakers like to call "The People's House" into Rush's House.
On Tuesday, Mr. Limbaugh repaid the favor, lavishing praise on Mr. Tilley to his national radio audience and replaying clips of his induction speech.
Mr. Tilley, who has turned monetizing public service into an art form, sold out the people for 15 seconds of fame.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.