What Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill could teach Washington today
By Chris Matthews
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
A vigorous debate over the role of government is always at the heart of our democracy. Since the shootings in Arizona, however, many have said that our partisan ferocity is unhealthy.
So it seems like a good time to reflect on Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill. It would serve us well to understand how these very different politicians managed to temper their philosophical divide with a public, and sometimes personal, cordiality.
About this time of year three decades ago, Reagan went to the Capitol to deliver the State of the Union address. His designated "holding room" was the speaker's ceremonial office just off the House floor. I was a senior aide to the speaker, and I thought a little kidding was in order.
"Mr. President, welcome to the room where we plot against you," I said.
"Oh, no, not after 6," he replied. "The speaker says that here in Washington we're all friends after 6."
Reagan was warm - and he meant his words. For years, he and O'Neill engaged in tough partisan competition. They gave no quarter and expected none. The president believed that government wasn't the solution; it was the problem. The House speaker believed that people, especially the old, the sick and the young, needed help along the way.