Editorial: He understood compromise, leadership

Oct. 19, 2013 @ 11:02 PM

Sifting through elected leaders’ comments following the death of Tom Foley leaves an uneasy feeling. They get it; they just can’t duplicate it.

Foley served 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, the last six as speaker. He died Friday at the age of 84.

He was a Democrat and served inside the Beltway during a 40-year period of control by his party. And yet, on Friday, words were eloquent from members of both parties. Their admiration for his model was crystal clear.

“Tom’s straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties,” said no less than President Barack Obama. He was coming out of another 15-rounder with Congress, this time on a shutdown of the government and potential default to creditors.

“We didn’t agree on every issue, but on key issues we managed to put the good of the country ahead of politics,” said former President George H.W. Bush, who had to break his promise not to raise taxes in 1990 with Foley negotiating on the other side of the budget talks.

Bush also wanted to use force in Iraq that year. Foley didn’t, but allowed the House to vote.

“He granted our request for a vote because it was the right thing to do. He was that kind of leader,” said Illinois Republican Bob Michel, the House’s minority leader at the time.

“Tom Foley endeared himself not only to the wheat farmers back home but also colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” said John Boehner, the current Republican speaker. “That had a lot to do with his solid sense of fairness, which remains a model for any speaker or representative.”

And Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, said he “inspired a sense of purpose and civility that reflects the best of our democracy.”

In his obituary, his wife wrote, “Foley was very much a believer that the perfect should not get in the way of the achievable.” She said he believed that “half of something was better than none.”

“There was always another day and another Congress to move forward and get the other half done,” she wrote.

True words our leadership should use.