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House leader's principled reflections

Reflections of a Public Man, by US Rep. James C. Wright Jr., Fort Worth, Texas: Madison Publishing Company, 117 pp. $5.95 Rather than wait until 1986 when House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. steps down, President Ronald Reagan jokes that he would gladly grant the Boston pol his wish to be ambassador to Ireland -- today.

The President should read ``Reflections of a Public Man,'' by Texas Congressman Jim Wright. Doing so would make whatever partisan ambushes Speaker O'Neill lays decidedly more bearable since, with 31 years in the House and as majority leader, Jim Wright is heir to the speakership.

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Reflections originate as private acts. When they are the record of a man in the public arena, public reflections run the risk of being self-aggrandizing, no matter how eloquent. Principled vision becomes the sine qua non for credibility. Principle and vision permeate Mr. Wright's book.

From boyhood memories of falling off a horse (and, more important, getting right back on), a reverence for the life and example of frontier hero Sam Houston (in his opinion one of the most courageous men in the nation's history), to troubled musings on the partisan splintering of Congress (what's at stake, he says, is the very soul of our democracy), Mr. Wright's dignified, yet eminently practical way of thinking comes through.

One would be hard put to find a better book for high school government classes. A school that could say that its graduates had read and understood the nature, the scope, and the contradictions of our democracy described by Jim Wright could say it was graduating citizens capable of choosing their leaders.

Jim Bencivenga is the Monitor's education editor.

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