When I started covering politics, Jennings Randolph was completing his tenure as the grand old man of Capitol Hill. The last sitting member of Congress to have arrived with Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 (as a member of the House), he was still sitting as a senator from West Virginia more than 50 years later. Perhaps as importantly, he had been born only a little more than a century after the Constitution was adopted.
Randolph recognized the connection between the Constitution and the New Deal, seeing in both an element of nation-building that focused on the affirmative role of government and the necessary role of the extension of the federal government that could be found in every hinterland hamlet and urban neighborhood: the post office.
Randolph was the great defender of the postal service that Ben Franklin had established and that the framers of the Constitution had seen fit to recognize as an essential project of the federal endeavor.
Randolph waxed poetic about the post office, respecting the local facility, be it a frame building at a country crossroads or a brick-and-mortar monument at the center of the largest city. It was, he said, more than a purveyor of packages and mail, more than a source of employment, more even than a meeting spot and focal point for community.
The post office, Randolph explained, was the friendly and honorable face of a government that could otherwise seem distant and, at times, ominous.
As a true Jeffersonian Democrat, and a faithful New Dealer, Randolph argued that those who understood the positive role that government could play in the lives and communities of Americans had better make the defense of the post office a high priority.
"When the post office is closed, the flag comes down," he said. "When the human side of government closes its doors, we're all in trouble."
Randolph spoke the faith of the small-"d" democrat with those words -- and, at least in his time, that of the large-"D" Democrat.