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Democracy Of Speedy Walks

Tracking our inexplicable fascination with how fast politicians can walk

The elected official checklist that voters must consult every election year features a catalog of traits that have absolutely nothing to do with how said candidate would govern. We want presidents to be tall. We want politicians to act natural and tell it like it is. And, judging by how easy it is to find descriptions of candidates “galloping” or “sprinting,” we also want our politicians to walk fast.

Maybe we are programmed to equate speed-walking with success, conveying everything you need to know about a politician's ambition through their long strides. Maybe we can blame Teddy Roosevelt, who inspired at least a dozen fluff pieces about how fast he dashed around D.C. A rapid gait will come in handy once a politician is elected too, making it easy to breeze past reporters in the Capitol eager to ask them a question, leaving them with nothing but the opportunity to note that the president "walked briskly" down the hall.

So what does this all mean? Absolutely nothing, especially as we approach our inevitable end-of-WALL-E downfall where walking speed will become irrelevant and the only important characteristic for would-be politicians is that they sound sort of like a robot. But sometimes, especially before a holiday weekend, it’s nice to stop and be slightly amused by breathless descriptions of political paces. Who knew this was a thing?

President William McKinley, 1897: "He walks briskly, but not so rapidly that those whom he meets and who recognize him do not have an opportunity to take off their hats and say, ‘How d’e.’"

Donald Trump, 1976: "Besides being a fast talker, he is a fast walker, a fast eater, a fast business dealer, and gives the distinct impression of being an early candidate for a cardiac arrest."

Diplomat Robert McClintock, 1961: "A spruce, wiry man with carefully combed gray hair, Mr. McClintock stands erect and walks briskly."

Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker, 1974: "Even the automatic doors are not quick enough for the senator. Adjusting his stride to avoid walking headlong into the glass, he says the fast gait is a result of his high school days in Worcester when he and his brother got up on cold winter mornings and trapped muskrats along the Zacharias Creek to earn some pocket money. ‘It was too cold to do anything else but walk fast.’"

Theodore Roosevelt, 1907: "President Roosevelt always walks to church. He walks briskly. His speed is very close to four miles an hour. The average time consumed by him in going from the gate of the white house [sic] to the front door of the church is 13 minutes. When alone — as he is unless one of the little boys accompanies him — he frequently makes the walk in 12 minutes. He has been known to make it in 11 minutes and a fraction."

Vice-President John Nance Garner, 1938: "At home he reads the newspapers and books and walks briskly about the place, swinging his arms vigorously, to inspect the work of his two hired men."

Michael Dukakis, 1988: "Now, as part of his physical fitness program, Mr. Dukakis carries a four-pound weight in each hand for his walks three or four times weekly. ‘I do about a 13-minute mile,’ he said."

Mayor Ed Koch, 1988: "He chose to leave immediately, moving rapidly to his car. ‘I'm a very fast walker,’ the Mayor said afterward."

Colorado State Senator Angela Giron, 2013: "‘I’m a fast walker,’ she said as she headed out through a working-class neighborhood under a sweltering morning sun."

Senator Robert Taft, 1940: "Walks fast but talks deliberately and without fireworks."

Grace Coolidge, 1925: "Mrs. Calvin Coolidge walks briskly and knows her own mind."

George W. Bush, 2000: "Waving as he walks briskly from car to office, the governor seems to be trying to project an aura of inevitability to a Bush presidency."

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Vice President Hubert Humphrey, 1964: "A chunky 5ft 10in, Humphrey has a youthful bounce ad [sic] breeziness. He walks fast and with the directness of a tank."

Dwight Eisenhower, 1957: "The President walks fast and he is slightly pigeon-toed."

Elizabeth Warren, 2016: "In her day job, Ms. Warren cuts an imperious swath through the Capitol, striding down hallways, her jewel-toned jacket swaying behind her, refusing to speak to or even make eye contact with reporters."

Senator Key Pittman, 1921: "Senator Pittman of Nevada walks briskly, but he says there was a time when he didn't dare do so. In the days when he was a miner and lawyer up in the Alaska gold fields no one walked rapidly; they just sauntered casually, because it was unwise to walk as if headed toward any particular destination."

Jimmy Carter, 2008: "He walks with noticeable determination, though at 83, he stoops a little."

Paul Ryan, 2005: "He walks briskly through a large outer office that has been given over to a buffet of smoked salmon, shrimp, stuffed mushrooms and other delicacies, along with beer, soda and cocktails and a dessert tray of fresh fruit and chocolate sauce."

Scott Brown, 2010: "Brown played the part of heralded hero, smiling and waving as he walked briskly into the Russell Senate Office Building."

Jim Webb, 2011: "Webb frequently tries to avoid the press in the Capitol, walking briskly through the halls of the Senate, often answering questions with one-word responses and exiting and entering the chamber through side and back doors."

Abraham Lincoln, 1863: "But, on the other hand, the Emperor's legs are short, and he waddles as he walks, while the President strides about like a Colossus or a liberty pole, and can outwalk Napoleon on any course from here to Mexico."

Rand Paul, 2013: "Paul walks quickly to the street, heading toward his nearby apartment."

New York Governor David Paterson, 2008: "That lack of certainty in life may explain the fast pace of Paterson's walk. ... ‘Yeah, he walks fast. It's kind of scary.'"

Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette, 1988: La Follette is a slightly built but energetic figure who speed-walks down Wisconsin's main streets on his practical black, postman's model walking shoes. ... His determined gait, together with the striking bush hat he wears to shield his face from the sun, sometimes seem to startle voters who don't know him."

Vice President Charles Fairbanks, 1906: "Vice President Fairbanks is a great walker, making good times with his long, smooth strides, and almost without fail walks from his house in Farragut Square to the Capitol, a distance of not less than two miles, and back again."