While George Nethercutt’s backers crowed and talk radio gibbered in glee that Tom Foley had become “road kill,” Foley turned that familiar, St. Bernard visage toward the clicking cameras and spoke in the accents of another time:
He offered Nethercutt sincere congratulations, as another congressman once did for a younger Foley 30 years ago. He thanked 5th District voters, who have given him “the thrill of election as well as the honor of service.”
He thanked colleagues: “Despite what some people think, the overwhelming membership of the Congress, Republican and Democrat, are wonderful, upstanding and talented people who carry on the service of their constituents with honor and effectiveness.”
He thanked staff: “You made me better than I am.”
And he said: “This new Congress and this new representative in Congress should have our support and our prayers, as should the president …”
Newt Gingrich, Foley’s likely successor as speaker of the House, also had things to say:
Bill and Hillary Clinton, he declared, are “countercultural McGovernicks” who’d be “dumb” to get in his way.
Gingrich wrote and then leaked a letter to Foley, raising a “concern” that unspecified office records “could” be removed. He said he’d be “happy” to help with “immediate steps … to ensure that no documents … be removed or destroyed until further notice.”
Such thoughts pop naturally into Gingrich’s imagination: His Republican role models - Nixon, Reagan, North - wrote the manual on cover-ups. But, we digress.
Foley, who is known among peers for his scrupulous integrity, will not be remembered for innuendo from the likes of Gingrich. Rather, he’ll be remembered for the classy style evident in his departure - a style that characterized his entire tenure, made him effective, made him a leader and left imprints of his service throughout the 5th Congressional District.
Some in these twisted times have attempted to make it a sin to use the government to build and to improve. That is a cross for Nethercutt to carry.
Foley leaves a different legacy. He worked to strengthen agriculture and defense, keep electricity affordable, make forestry sustainable, reduce pollution, improve airports, enhance universities, renovate downtowns, widen killer highways, boost mass transit, create scenic trails, fund research that fed the world, nourish hungry children, combat bigotry, support the elderly and show, for those with eyes to see, that politics still can be an honorable profession.