Muzzle GOP Pit Bulls

IT'S too bad Republican attack dogs snapped at the outstretched hand of Tom Foley. Gratuitous personal comments about the new House Speaker (including sexual innuendo) aren't surprising, coming as they do from the same folks who gave us one of the nastiest presidential campaigns in recent history. But they're hardly proper now, directed against the man who promises the GOP ``a spirit of cooperation and increased consultation'' on Capitol Hill, the man who most Republicans as well Democrats are delighted to have replace the discredited Jim Wright.

GOP attack master Lee Atwater called Speaker Foley to apologize, and he canned the offending memo writer. That's fine, but any other snarly pups should be permanently muzzled too.

Republicans understandably chafe under the choke chain of minority status in the House that's gone on for 35 years. But many of them, too, have benefited from the power of incumbency, including senior party members who filled up on ``honorariums'' and other perks of power. And it's worth noting that most of the House has turned over since the beginning of the Reagan-Bush era. Republicans, of course, lost control of the Senate in 1986 on their own despite the power of incumbency.

The point is, it's still the weight of ideas that counts most in getting elected and in passing legislation. There are plenty of true-blue Republicans who voted right along with ``closet liberal'' Tom Foley.

Yes, there is plenty of room for reform in the electoral process to make the selection of lawmakers more competitive - although it should be kept in mind that as long as Americans keep electing Republican presidents, they are likely to keep balance by favoring Democratic members of Congress. PACs need to be controlled, and it may be time to consider public financing of congressional races.

But in any case, the political pit bulls should be curbed. For as Republican Rep. Jim Leach said, ``There is nothing in public life more unprincipled than the politics of innuendo.''

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