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Speaker Tom Foley's Rocky Rise – 1989

Feeding Frenzy House Speaker James. C. Wright's resignation was only the first of several acts in the 1989 House degradation play. Wright's natural successor as speaker, Democratic Majority Leader Thomas S. Foley, had hoped for a glorious consecration but instead received a baptism of smear.

For weeks unsubstantiated rumors of Foley's homosexuality had been circulating in the corridors of Capitol Hill, spread by a few Wright supporters – hoping to make the alternative to Wright less palatable – as well as by some Republicans. Several news outlets, including The New Republic and CBS News, had stoked the fires by offering their own teases about Foley's potential problem in print or over the airwaves.

The allegations finally broke into full public view with the release of a Republican National Committee memo comparing Foley's record to that of avowedly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) under the headline, "Out of the Liberal Closet." The author of the memo, Mark Goodin, was fired in the subsequent uproar, and top Republicans including President George Bush and party chairman Lee Atwater apologized, but Foley, who ultimately served as speaker until 1995, was forced to declare on national television his devotion to heterosexuality.

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© Copyright 1998 Larry J. Sabato

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