Senator Hayden on “saying little and getting things
August 25, 1978
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The following is an excerpt from the
oral history interview with Floyd M. Riddick, Senate Parliamentarian,
conducted by associate Senate historian Donald Ritchie.
RIDDICK: Another story that I think is most interesting; Senator
Carl Hayden told me this story. I remember when I first came up to the
Senate to work I had interviewed him, because he was the head man here for
all practical purposes. When we were setting up -- he was also the chairman
of the Joint Committee on Printing -- and when I came up to set up the
"Daily Digest" in the back of the Congressional Record, I was sent
over to interview Senator Hayden. And
I hadn't talked with him more than
three minutes before he picked up the
phone and called what was then called
the Bureau of the Budget and told them
that he was going to send me down to
figure out the estimated costs of
running the Digest. Well, he impressed
me so by his action that I wanted to
ask him a few questions.
I had read the Record for many years and I always noticed that you
never found that Carl Hayden said more than a paragraph in
the Record on any bill. He'd get up and make a brief
statement and that was it. And I said: "Senator, I have
heard since I've been around here that you are without
doubt one of the most influential members of the Senate.
That whatever you say they do. And I never see where you
debate much. Why is it you never have much to say?"
He said: "Well, let me tell you young man, when I first came to the House of
Representatives the leader for the Democrats,” (and I think these facts are
right – that is, the date) “John Sharp Williams from Mississippi was the
Democratic leader during the Woodrow Wilson administration,” (at least part of
the time).1 And [Hayden] said, “Well, I had always been interested
interstate highways system and had spent much time in that field and felt that I
knew the subject pretty well," (and as you know, he is considered the father of
the federal aid to highway systems). He said: "well, when I was in the House on
this occasion and John Sharp Williams was the majority leader, we were debating
this highway bill.” And he said, “I went down into the well of the House
that day and spoke for an hour on this thing, or for a long period of time,
setting forth my philosophy in every detail, and how I thought this highway bill
should be developed and enacted. And after I finished I walked back down to the
leader's desk,” (you know, they have tables in the House side for the leaders
to sit), “went back down to the leader’s desk where John Sharp Williams was
sitting,” (who was then the Democratic leader), and I turned to him and I
said: 'Mr. Leader, how did that sound?'" He said John Sharp Williams twisted his
long handlebar mustache a little bit and turned to him and said: "Young man, it
sounded good. But it's on the Record now and it's hard to change after
you put it on the Record." And he said: "That taught me a lesson, and it
leaves me more maneuverability to say little and get things done." That
impressed me very much.
1 John Sharp Williams served as the Democratic minority
leader of the House of Representatives from 1903 to 1908.
Riddick may have been referring to Oscar Underwood of Alabama,
who was Democratic majority leader of the House of
Representatives from 1911 to 1915.