Mr. Walsh goes to Washington

Updated 1/15/2011 6:49 PM

From the beginning of the yearlong quest that took Joe Walsh to Congress, we have been among his sharpest critics.

We've questioned his judgment, his sincerity and his personal self-discipline. We've disagreed strongly with the reflexive right-wing ideology he's espoused, and we've worried that his avowed refusal to work with Democrats would make him a legislator whose style promotes a continuation of deadlock and acrimony rather than a new era of solutions.


So, no, we were not in the cheering section when Walsh pulled his narrow but stunning upset over Melissa Bean in the race for Congress in the 8th District, which takes in a large chunk of Lake and McHenry counties and some of northwest Cook County.

But all of that said, his first few days in office have been surprisingly encouraging.

This isn't to say that our reservations have vanished or that Walsh's curious past tribulations should be ignored. Or that the realities of political war won't set in as time passes.

But his early approach has been refreshing, almost selfless.

On the days leading up to his swearing in, Walsh announced that he is not enrolling in the Congressional health plan or participating in the Congressional pension program.

A government official turning down a pension? How often does that happen?

Walsh's passing on the health plan is a significant symbolic gesture too. Say what you will about his opposition to what he derisively calls "Obamacare," he is in this instance a rare politician who is putting his money where his mouth is, at no small sacrifice to himself and his family.

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Last week, in the wake of the tragedy at a Congressional function in Tucson, Walsh keenly understood the role he has to calm and reassure the public, and there was a bit of statesmanship in his holding his own town hall meeting Wednesday night so soon after the shootings.

"I want to show my constituents that some sicko is not at all going to change the way this institution does its job and the way I do my job," he told Daily Herald Politics and Projects Writer Kerry Lester.

He says that for now, at least, he plans to sleep in his Congressional office in Washington and make it back home to meet on a weekly basis with constituents.

He seems intent on warding off the insulation from the public that Washington breeds.

Is he being too ideally ambitious in his goals? Probably. Will the newness wear off and reality set it? A good chance of that. Is his viewpoint still too doctrinaire? Certainly.

But for now, in this short first few days, Rep. Walsh has impressed. He has been, in this short first few days, a refreshingly different politician.

We only ask, Rep. Walsh, that you keep impressing.