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UNITED STATES POLITICS: Thomas B. Reed



Paul Simon writes: "Tom Reed might better be remembered for "Reed's Rules", the parliamentary procedures which govern the House to this day, his steadfast opposition to colonialism, military entanglements, and foreign adventurism, or his eloquence. He always put principle above his career or even his friendships. He dared to oppose both T. Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge (old friends) on the Philippine issue and even gave up the speakership over it! He refused to compromise on any matter of principle in 1896 and thus lost the Republican nomination to McKinley. Quite a man! I don't think Congress has seen his like since!"

My response: He was a lucky man, since if he had become President, he, not McKinley, would have been assassinated. As for Reedīs Rules, they are a mixed blessing. "Filibuster": what a can of words! Webster says it comes from the Spanish "filibustero", which, the Spanish Academy tells us, came from the English "freebooter", i.e. one ho took his booty freely. "booty" coming from "boot", to profit. In the political sense. it is an American word; I have not heard it elsewhere. In the US, is is applied only to the Senate, which has made several attempts to prevent it, as Reed stopped it in the House.

The remedy in the House is drastic and odd. Congressional debates are laced with the remark from the speaker: "The gentlemen from x is recognized for 15 minutes". The gentlemen from x says as he finishes "I yield the balance of my time to the gentlelady from y" It often sounds as though the speaker had a stopwatch. Sometimes the proceedings of the Senate follow the same ritual, which I thought was restricted to the House. Every parliament in the world must have some rule to shut up windbags. What an excellent subject for a dissertation in comparative politics!

Ronald Hilton - 12/27/01


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