While many in Congress spent last Tuesday arguing over Obamacare and other testy issues, a number of the government’s more distinguished leaders gathered under the Capitol Dome to play homage to a man who probably would have known how to prevent these crises from happening in the first place.
That man’s name was Tom Foley, who died Oct. 18 at 84.
A centrist Democrat of Washington State, Foley spent 30 years in Congress representing the Spokane area; for five of those years — the last five — he was speaker of the House. That’s the same job Rep. John Boehner, a Republican of Ohio, holds now, and that Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat of San Francisco, held before Boehner.
Foley’s speakership spanned the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and he was able to work with both of them. He also was able to work with Rep. Robert Michel, Republican of Illinois, the House minority leader while Foley was speaker.
At Tuesday’s memorial observance under the Capitol Dome, Michel, now 90, told of the kind of man Foley was.
Foley “made things happen ... found ways to solve difficult problems and made the House a working institution.” Michel said that when Foley took over as speaker, Foley suggested that the two of them meet once a week to talk over what was going on in the Congress. One week, Michel said, the meeting would be in Foley’s office, and the next week in Michel’s.
“That was unheard of” at the time, Michel said. “Underlying was the faith and trust we had in each other. I don’t think there’s much that could be more important than trust between political leaders.”
Michel said that on the final day in Congress for both men, in 1994, Foley, who had been defeated for re-election, acted with extreme grace.
“He called me up to preside over the Congress on the podium,” said Michel, who was leaving House by choice. “It was the first time I had ever been up there, Democrats had been in charge for so long.” Michel said he gave his last speech from the speaker’s platform, while Foley gave his from the well of the House.
“I’ll never forget that,” he said. Decency, manners, common courtesy, trust, all make for “good politics,” said Michel.
That kind of leadership is missing today, from the White House on down. Today’s politicians could well heed Michel’s words.