- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Questioning whether a man such as the late Tom Foley could exist in today’s bitterly divided Congress, President Obama on Tuesday took a shot at the media and the gerrymandering of congressional districts during a memorial speech for the former House speaker, who died earlier this month.

“At a time when our political system can seem more polarized and more divided than ever before, it can be tempting to see the possibility of bipartisan progress as a thing of the past, old school,” Mr. Obama said during Tuesday’s service, which also included tributes from former President Bill Clinton and other current and past elected leaders.

“It can be tempting to wonder if we still have room for members like Tom, whether the environment, the media, the way districts are drawn, the pressure those of us in elected office are under, somehow preclude the possibility of that brand of leadership,” the president continued.

“Well, I believe we have to find our way back there. Now more than ever, America needs public servants who are willing to place problem-solving ahead of politics,” said Mr. Obama, who never was in Congress alongside Mr. Foley.

Mr. Foley, a Spokane, Wash., native who died Oct. 18, served 30 years in Congress, including a nearly six-year stint as House speaker that came to an end after the 1994 midterm elections that brought Republicans to power on Capitol Hill for the first time since the 1950s.

The president’s words at Mr. Foley’s memorial on Tuesday were just the latest in a string of shots the commander in chief has taken in recent weeks at the highly controversial practice of gerrymandering, the redrawing of political districts to benefit candidates of a given party.

During this month’s government shutdown, Mr. Obama also blasted gerrymandering, charging that tea party Republicans in the House were able to take unreasonable stances because they lacked credible Democratic challengers in their home districts to hold them accountable at the ballot box.

The practice of drawing district lines to benefit one’s own party, a frequent target of criticism, is carried out by both major political parties and, along with other factors, has ensured high rates of re-election for decades. Success rates in the House for incumbents who seek re-election have never been below 80 percent in the half-century since campaigns became a media-centric affair. In the last 20 years, only in the 2010 tea-party surge has it been below 90 percent.

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