November 10, 2008

House Speaker: The Large and the Small of It

I’m happy to be corrected, but I believe that Thomas Reed (1839–1902) was the all-time largest Speaker of the House of Representatives. But though Reed was big (nearly 300 lbs.!), he made his points with a small number of words.

Reed's pithiness was on display when a representative during a debate said, “I would rather be right than president,” Reed's response: “The gentleman need not worry. He will never be either.” Burn on him!

Reed once made fun of Teddy Roosevelt's brash nature by saying to the President, “If there is one thing for which I admire you, it is your original discovery of the Ten Commandments.” This forthright wittiness endeared the Speaker to those who appreciated an ability to speak truth to power. (Mark Twain loved him, apparently.)

At the other end of the scale, Nancy Pelosi has got to be the most diminutive Speaker of the House in history. She’s about five feet tall, which may be a sore point. (It’s impossible to find an official listing.) But smaller doesn’t mean cuter. In 2006, Pelosi said, “If people are ripping your face off, you have to rip their face off.” Yikes! So much for being a lightweight.
One More Reed-ism: During a House debate when the “five-minute rule” was in effect, a congressman kept blathering on and on. Reed put an end to that by saying, “You do not understand the theory of five-minute debate. The object is to convey . . . either information or misinformation. You have consumed several periods of five minutes this afternoon without doing either.”

Reed's picture from the Library of Congress. My sources are here.

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