Former House speaker Carl Albert, now 74, spends his days answering constituents' mail and dictating his memoirs from the same office in McAlester, Okla., that he occupied as a congressman.
He drives along Carl Albert Parkway to his office where a bust of Carl Albert stares out across the lawn. His legislative assistant still answers the phone, "Speaker Albert's office."
Everywhere, memorabilia of his three decades in Congress abound. On the office wall are the pens with which Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bills of the Great Society; a picture of Albert with his predecessor as speaker, John McCormick, and with Albert's successor, Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.); pictures of John F. Kennedy, and a picture of the Capitol at night. A photograph of Queen Elizabeth II is above his desk.
But McAlester is a long way from Capitol Hill.
"I miss the power at times when I want to do things. It's almost impossible to contemplate how much your influence, let alone your power, will drop after you leave a position of power. It does, and people don't give a damn about somebody that 'has been,' " Albert said recently, leaning back in his oversized chair.
"Nothing as dead as a dead congressman."
This is the man who twice stood second only to the president, who was speaker of the House from 1970-76, during Watergate, Vietnam, Koreagate, social disorder and social reform.
Albert lives with his wife, Mary, in a modest house on a quiet hillside near where he grew up. In January, he had surgery for cancer. His tired voice still troubles him. He is content now to sit on his porch and look out over Lake Eufaula or watch hummingbirds come to his bird feeders.
"This has always been home to me. I grew up here. Most of my real old friends are here, those that are not dead," Albert said.
"I didn't leave Washington till I satisfied myself that I would be happy away . . . . I'd had a heart attack, and I just figured I'd live longer. As I looked at the situation, I couldn't see where there was anything in the offing that would be momentous. You know after you've done something, you compete against that, and you compete against history."
" . . . I had been closer to the presidency than anybody but a vice president before me, so I had been all the way that you can possibly go except being president, and I was too old for that and didn't have any appetite for it particularly.
"Oh, I would have taken it if it were mine, don't worry about that. I would have, if it had come, but I didn't expect it to."
Albert, always a party man, remains faithful to the Democrats. His car sports a "Democrats Are Coming" bumper sticker, and a bit of partisan rhetoric still comes out at times--"I don't say Republicans are more corruptible. I say they're more corrupting . . . ."
Said Albert, "I don't think of myself as an historical figure. If I had been president, I might have."