What should be said of Jim Wright now that he has become the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives driven from office in disgrace?

-That this step is a welcome if overdue development because it allows Congress to stop dwelling on political personalities and start dealing with legislative issues?True enough. But the point already has been made repeatedly. In fact, Wright's decision to leave both the speaker's job and the House has been so long anticipated and so widely urged that his formal announcement Wednesday afternoon came almost as an anticlimax.

-That the increased concern over congressional ethics that led to Wright's departure makes it harder to get good people to seek high office?

Though that's what a number of Washington observers keep insisting, the claim is sheer nonsense. In terms of quantity, there never has been any shortage of ambitious politicians eager to run for Congress. In terms of quality, are we really to believe that the most capable and trustworthy people are not repelled by a lax moral climate in Washington but are actually attracted by it? Such thinking defies common sense.

-Or should a point be made of Wright's failure to display any contrition during the long exercise in self-justification that preceded his announcement that he is resigning?

Again, though such an observation could legitimately be made, no useful purpose would be served by continuing to note Wright's failings now that he has decided to stop inflicting them upon the country.

What's needed now is not yet another autopsy on a political corpse that already has been thoroughly dissected. Instead, the challenge at this point is for both Congress and the country to start looking ahead to the post-Wright era on Capitol Hill.

By all accounts, what comes next is the virtual certainty of a House of Representatives with Thomas S. Foley of Washington as the new speaker. That means a markedly different style of leadership. But the changes won't accomplish as much as they should unless Foley makes a concentrated effort at healing the wounds that have brought relations between House Democrats and Republicans to new levels of bitterness and mistrust.

Though Foley is said to be as cautious as Wright is impetuous, caution can exact a price: Mistakes are avoided but opportunities are sometimes lost.

Likewise, though Foley's skills as a thoughtful and articulate political leader can help rescue Congress from its grave crisis of public confidence, the roots of that crisis go much deeper than the Jim Wright scandal. Rather, the problem includes the lawmakers' excess fondness for fees from special interests that look suspiciously like bribes. The problem also includes Washington's chronic inability to reduce the deficit, let alone balance the budget, without resorting to fiscal trickery.

Moreover, Foley is better known for bringing together warring Democratic factions than for giving them a battle plan. His colleagues are hard pressed to spell out Foley's policy agenda.

Anyway, with Wright's resignation, it appears at this point that the House's highest office is being passed from a crafty power broker to a quintessential consensus builder. Foley has the respect of congressional Republicans and the White House as well as that of his fellow Democrats. Certainly the next speaker will need all the help he can get in repairing the damage on Capitol Hill.