Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked
Before he was a news show host, Chris Matthews was chief of staff to Tip O’Neill in the 1980s. During that period, Tip was the most prominent Democrat in the country as Speaker of the House, and he was the constant adversary to President Ronald Reagan.
This book chronicles the six years from 1980 to 1986, when Tip retired.
It’s a play-by-play which tells the story from Tip’s side of the aisle, supplemented by excepts from Reagan’s published journal entries. The premise of the book is that Reagan and O’Neill were good friends behind the scenes, but dutifully fought for their positions in public.
The book succeeds at that. They did seem to have great affection for each other – they were both Irish, and in their 70s – but they stood for very different things, and they each fought for their positions. Reagan is portrayed affectionately as a man absolutely determined to break the Soviet’s back, and O’Neill is a man who believes government can help people, so long as the political will exists to get the job done.
In the end, the public relationship between Reagan and O’Neill probably didn’t seem unique. But it was the private relationship that they had which reached across the aisle. They dictated that after 6:00 p.m., they were always friends.
At Tip’s birthday party, Reagan made this quote: “Tip, if I had two tickets to heaven, and you didn’t have one, I’d give mine away and go to hell with you.”
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