Tip O'Neill with Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office of the White House in November 1985. Photo by: Heikes,Darryl L.

Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill showed America the way forward says Tip’s son


Tip O'Neill with Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office of the White House in November 1985. Photo by: Heikes,Darryl L.

In a blunt warning to today’s political leaders Thomas O’Neill, the son of ‘Tip’ O’Neill has laid out the necessity for both President Obama and Mitt Romney, whichever is elected to work with the other side.

He made his comments in a New York Times op-ed.

Twice in the presidential debate this week the Reagan/O’Neill relationship was brought up as an example of what could be achieved when two leaders from opposite sides agreed to work together.

However Thomas O’Neill, a former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, said the relationship between the two Irish American leaders was far more hard knuckle and antagonistic than has generally been portrayed ---but nonetheless the two men found a way to work together.

O’Neill wrote: “Twice in their debate on Wednesday, President Obama and Mitt Romney brought up the names of my father, Tip O’Neill, and Ronald Reagan, the Republican icon, asserting that the relationship between Reagan and my father, a Democrat who was speaker of the House for most of Reagan’s presidency, should serve as a model for how political leaders can differ deeply on issues, and yet work together for the good of the country.”

“It is not a new idea. As Washington has become increasingly partisan, and increasingly deadlocked, a misty aura has grown around the O’Neill and Reagan years. That mist obscures some hard truths — and harder words.”

Thomas O’Neill says his father called Reagan “Herbert Hoover with a smile” or “a cheerleader for selfishness.” He referred to the village of Reagan’s Irish forebears — Ballyporeen — as “the valley of the small potatoes.”

In turn Reagan called him “Pac-Man — “a round thing that gobbles up money,”  and made him the butt of G.O.P. political advertising.

Thomas O’Neill stated that “they were two men from humble Irish-American backgrounds who did not back down from a fight, and their worldviews were poles apart”.

He described vicious battles over social security and the Clean Water Act and O’Neill  remembers his father calling Reagan names privately.

“I remember some of what he said at the time. None of it is was printable.”

However, when it came down to it Thomas O’Neill says Reagan and his father put country first.What both men deplored more than the other’s political philosophy was stalemate, and a country that was so polarized by ideology and party politics that it could not move forward.”

O’Neill says that commitment is needed again now “That commitment to put country ahead of personal belief and party loyalty is what Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney and millions of Americans miss so much right now.

“It allowed these two men to bend enough, even after their knockdown fight in 1982, to forge an agreement that helped save Social Security — something both men knew needed to be done. It meant that Reagan could support an increase in federal gas taxes, which would fund infrastructure improvements that both he and my father were convinced would put thousands of unemployed Americans back to work.”

“Historic tax reforms, seven tax increases, a strong united front that brought down the Soviet Union — all came of a commitment to find common ground. While neither man embraced the other’s worldview, each respected the other’s right to hold it. Each respected the other as a man.”

O’Neill writes that Reagan knew his father worshipped Boston College and he kindly appeared at a fundraising dinner for them and when Reagan was shot O’Neill went immediately to the hospital and prayed at his bedside.

“It was a stubborn refusal not to allow fund-raisers, activists, party platforms or ideological chasms to stand between them and actions — tempered and improved by compromise — that kept this country moving.

“I don’t blame Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney for getting nostalgic about that,” O’Neill concludes.


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