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Image Credit: 

Carl Albert standing at his desk in the congressional chamber (Carl Albert Research and Studies Center, Congressional Collection)

Correspondence

The Man From Bug Tussle

Localism is the health of the republic, as exemplified by former House Speaker Carl Albert.

On the fourth floor rotunda of the Oklahoma State Capitol hangs a curious portrait entitled “Carl Albert,” painted in oil by distinguished Sooner State artist Charles Banks Wilson and dedicated in 1977. It depicts the 46th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Only 5’4” in real life, Carl Albert (1908-2000) looms large in the foreground in a brown business suit and striped tie. In his watchful eyes and bemused smile, one senses a man of power who means business.

Even without the image of the U.S. Capitol in the background, someone gazing at the portrait might suspect that its subject’s business was politics. And Albert was, in fact, the consummate public servant, the embodiment of political philosopher Willmoore Kendall’s virtuous man of the people. A master of political compromise, Albert was deeply opposed to the unyielding ideological divisions that have all too often paralyzed Congress in recent years. Committed to incremental change and the power of consensus, he rose to the pinnacle of congressional power while never forgetting that his first duty was to the people he represented.

Albert’s humble origins are suggested in Wilson’s painting: Behind and below Albert stand the school children of Bug Tussle, Oklahoma, the town where he grew up. The painting was inspired in part by an old sepia-toned Bug Tussle elementary school photograph that showed Carl as a short boy in the front row. In brilliant...

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