Tag Archives: Tip O’Neill

‘I, alone’ is turning out to be a prophetic boast

I believe successful governing is a team sport.

At the highest level of U.S. government, it involves two of three branches working hand in glove to find common ground. The executive branch and the legislative branch develop relationships at the top of their respective chains of command.

Presidents become friendly with the speaker of the House and the Senate leadership. They need not become friends, but friendliness does not require actual friendship. When they belong to competing parties, that relationship becomes even more critical.

However, that’s changing. It changed when Donald J. Trump took the presidential oath in January 2017. Now he is competing with a House of Reps that is run by the competing party. Trump and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, do not get along.

Sigh . . .

I long for the way it used to be when President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill would savage each other publicly, then slip into the House cloak room for an adult beverage after hours. They reportedly would laugh about the language they used on each other. They understood how to govern. O’Neill was the crusty Democratic pol with decades of experience in Washington. Reagan was new to D.C., but had eight years of governmental executive experience as governor of California.

Oh, man, it’s all different now. The speaker has decades of experience legislating. Pelosi is tough, shrewd, steely. Donald Trump also is new to Washington, but he doesn’t have a clue about governing and how to negotiate with the other side. The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, also expresses extreme distaste for Trump as president.

Trump told the Republican convention in the summer of 2016 that “I, alone” can repair what ails the nation. No, he cannot. However, he’s trying like hell to make that boast come true.

It will not work. It cannot possibly work. Donald Trump is not a team player. A man with not a single moment of public service experience before becoming president of the United States cannot possibly do what needs to be done all by himself.

The nation is going to suffer for as long as this individual remains in its highest elected political office.

Democrats suffer a gigantic electoral shock

Something happened to U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley’s inexorable march to the chair occupied by the speaker of the House of Representatives.

He got beat! In a Democratic Party primary no less!

His conqueror is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, a first-time political candidate, a self-proclaimed “Democratic socialist,” a community activist who worked the neighborhoods of Queens and The Bronx in New York City.

Crowley had poured lots of money into this race. He outspent Ocasio-Cortez by about 18 to 1. All that money went for naught, given that Ocasio-Cortez beat Crowley by double digits Tuesday night.

One problem emerged with Crowley’s re-election effort, just as it did in 2014 when Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his Virginia GOP primary contest. It turns out Crowley was more interested in his own political ambition than in the problems facing the constituents who sent him to Congress in the late 1990s. He wanted to push Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi aside; he kept yapping about the need for “new leadership” among the House Democratic caucus.

His hope has been that Democrats could retake the House this year and he — not Pelosi — would be chosen as the next speaker of the House.

Did he care about the home folks? They spoke Tuesday night and delivered their verdict that, nope, he didn’t give a damn about them.

Is there a lesson here. Yep.

Somewhere, the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill is laughing out loud. It was O’Neill who coined the well-worn phrase: “All politics is local.”

Ronald Reagan would be aghast at GOP’s internal strife

I wasn’t a fan of President Ronald Reagan. I voted against him twice, in 1980 and 1984.

As the years have gone on and as I look back at the late president’s legacy, I am struck by one element of the manner in which he governed. He governed with a measure of good will toward his foes.

Yes, he could blister liberal Democrats with the best of ’em. He did so with a touch of humor. You’ve heard as well about his personal friendship with the late Democratic U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill.

President Reagan also crafted what he called the “11th Commandment,” which was that “Republicans shall not speak ill of other Republicans.”

That “commandment” has been tossed into the crapper, onto the scrap heap, burned, torn to shreds. You name it, today’s Republican Party has abandoned the 11th Commandment with a vengeance.

Don’t misunderstand: I don’t have a particular interest in seeing Republicans lock arms, hug each other’s necks, sing from the same hymnal page. I’m just amazed as I watch GOP officials lambaste each other how irrelevant their idol’s admonition has become in today’s climate.

The most glaring and daring example of Republican cannibalism involves Roy Moore, the Alabama candidate for the U.S. Senate. He is accused of making improper advances on underage girls. Congressional GOP leaders want nothing to do with this guy. Moore in return as all but declared political war on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; other senators are backing McConnell, with many — if not most — of them withdrawing their endorsement of Moore. They believe the accusers’ account of what Moore allegedly did.

What might the former president think of all this? What might President Reagan say to his fellow Republicans? Indeed, would the president stand with the Alabama candidate or would he choose to believe the man’s accusers?

This isn’t The Gipper’s Republican Party. Of that I am certain. Indeed, my strong hunch is that President Reagan’s affection for the likes of Speaker O’Neill might subject this once-beloved political figure to much of the intraparty condemnation he once banned.

Obama lacks GOP go-to pal in Congress


Valerie Jarrett gave a stellar defense Sunday night of her boss and long-time friend President Barack Obama.

Her appearance on “60 Minutes” was notable in her defense as well of her role — in addition to senior adviser — as friend, confidante and her easy access to the Leader of the Free World.

But she pushed back when CBS News correspondent Nora O’Donnell asked her about the president’s continuing prickly relationship with congressional Republicans. She said Obama has done all he could do to reach out.

O’Donnell, though, asked — but did get an answer — about the lack of a leading Republican in either the Senate or the House to whom the president could turn to fight for his legislative agenda.

It brought to mind the kind of relationship that previous presidents have cultivated with members of the “loyal opposition.” President Lyndon Baines Johnson could turn to GOP Sen. Everett Dirksen in a pinch; President Ronald Reagan had a fabulous after-hours friendship with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill; GOP President George W. Bush relied on help from Sen. Ted Kennedy to push through education reform.

Barack Obama doesn’t seem to have that kind of personal friendship with members of the other side. He relies on his own instincts, his own circle of friends — such as Jarrett — and the vice president, Joe Biden, who to this day retains close friendships with Senate Republicans.

It’s that lack of kinship that has troubled many of us who want the president to succeed. I recall having this discussion once with retired Amarillo College president Paul Matney, who lamented that Obama had not developed the legislative know-how that LBJ brought to the presidency.

LBJ had served as Senate majority leader before his one-time foe John F. Kennedy asked him to be his running mate in 1960. Ol’ Lyndon knew how the Senate worked and he was able to parlay that knowledge — along with tremendous national good will after JFK’s assassination in 1963 — into landmark legislation.

Barack Obama has been forced to struggle, to battle relentlessly, to get anything past a Republican-led Congress intent on blocking every major initiative he has sought.

The reasons behind the ultra-fierce resistance will be debated long after President Obama leaves office.

He seems, though, to have lacked one essential ingredient to move his agenda forward: a good friend and dependable ally on the other side of the aisle who could run interference for him.


Hey, these guys got along, too!


The politics of the moment has this way of inflicting a case of selective amnesia among politicians.

Take last night’s 12th — and possibly final — Republican Party presidential debate with Donald J. Trump, Rafael Edward Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich as providing an example of that peculiar malady.

One of them (I can’t remember who) brought up President Reagan’s famous buddy-buddy relationship with House Speaker Tip O’Neill. The two men — one Republican, one Democrat — worked well together.

Sure they did. I honor them for that cooperation.

So did a couple of other well-known pols. Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich also managed to find common ground when the need arose. And it did, particularly as it regarded the need to balance the federal budget.

None of these current GOP candidates, though, mentions that political partnership.

We all know why that is the case, of course.

It’s because the president’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wants to ascend to the office her husband once occupied.

Why, we just can’t give Bill Clinton any props for doing what the current president and the current congressional leadership seem unable — or perhaps unwilling — to do.

I’m the first to acknowledge that the Clinton-Gingrich relationship never evolved into the personal public friendship that Reagan and O’Neill developed.

The Gipper and the Tipper would share some spirits once they were off the clock, setting politics aside; it’s been reported widely how they would swap stories between them and laugh at the foolishness of the day.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of similar moments of non-political fellowship involving Bill and Newtie.

However, they certainly did form a valuable political partnership during the time Gingrich was speaker. It’s understandable, I suppose, that the Republicans running for president would choose to ignore it.

I’ll just have to rely on Hillary Clinton to remind the rest of us how bipartisan cooperation can work.

She was there, too.



Anger: It’s strewn all along the campaign trail


I guess you can sum up the tone of the 2016 presidential campaign with a single word.


I might live in a dream world, although I doubt it. Donald J. Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, and Bernie Sanders, the surprising Democratic candidate, apparently have tapped a vein that neither of them would be able to find on my body.

Voters are angry with the status quo. They hate politics and politicians. So, many of them are turning to so-called “outsiders” for relief from what they say ails the nation.

Isn’t that interesting? Ironic, too, if you want my take on it.

Trump and Sanders by the very definition of the word are politicians. Never mind that Trump made his fortune selling real estate, developing ritzy hotels and appearing on reality TV. Or disregard that Sanders has been a small-town mayor, member of the U.S. House of Representatives and now is a U.S. senator. They’re not “politicians” the way we’ve understood the word.

To quote the great fictional TV character U.S. Army Col. Sherman T. Potter: buffalo bagels!

They both are pursuing the granddaddy of American political offices, the presidency. Thus, they are politicians. Let’s stop pretending they aren’t, OK?

I don’t know what’s fueling the anger. From my vantage point, I remain the eternal optimist. Our national economy has recovered; we remain the strongest nation on the planet — by a mile, maybe two; we have avoided another 9/11-style terror attack since that hideous event more than 14 years ago; the price of gasoline is falling; we’re making strides in protecting our environment; our budget deficit has been cut by three-quarters.

And people are angry?

I believe the gloom-and-doomers have won the national shouting match. They’ve out-yelled the rest of us who, by our very nature, are not inclined to rouse rabbles and raise hell.

So, people are sick and tired of politicians.

Well, all right then.

The nation will be hearing a lot more from those purporting to be outsiders and those who have some actual experience running a massive government.

You may choose to believe — or disbelieve — this final point. I am willing to listen to the outsiders. I want to hear their solutions. I also am willing to consider all they have to offer.

The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say “all politics is local.”

I believe, though, that for me politics is personal. I am happy with my lot in life, with the direction my life is taking. I believe I have it within my power to guide my own destiny.

Government is not in the way. It does not threaten me or those I love.

I also know that there will be those who read this blog who will call me “naĂŻve,” “Pollyanna,” “ignorant,” “bleeding-heart” . . . whatever. Fine. Go ahead.

I’ll let the shouters keep trying to drown out the rest of us. I also am awaiting to hear some semblance of a solution from any of them.

First, they need to persuade me that we need one in the first place.

I’m all ears.

Where have you gone, Capitol Hill collegiality?

A Facebook exchange with a friend today brought to mind a missing ingredient in today’s political recipe.

Collegiality is gone. Maybe forever, for all I know … although I hope it makes a comeback.

The exchange was precipitated by a blog I posted about President Reagan’s 11th commandment, which the late president decreed should prohibit Republicans from speaking ill of other Republicans.


My friend responded by saying the blog post reminded him of why he still missed The Gipper. He added that Reagan and the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill, the tough Boston Democrat, liked each other’s company, even though they agreed on virtually nothing.

This all brings to mind some other unusual political friendships on Capitol Hill: Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Ted Kennedy; Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Daniel Inouye; Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat George McGovern; Republican Everett Dirksen and Democrat Lyndon Johnson. (Indeed, the Dirksen-Johnson friendship carried over into LBJ’s presidency.)

Two of those friendships — Dole and Inouye, and Goldwater and McGovern — were forged by common experiences during World War II. Dole and Inouye suffered grievous injury fighting in Europe and spent time in rehab together, where they formed a friendship that would last a lifetime; Goldwater and McGovern both flew combat missions as Army Air Corps pilots and they carried that common bond with them into the Senate.

These are the kinds of relationships we don’t see these days.

What we see instead is a continuation of what then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich once admonished of his Republican troops in the House of Representatives. It was to treat Democrats as the “enemy of normal Americans.”

The enemy? Yes, that was the word he used.

The parties today seem to have carried that outlook well into the 21st century.

It’s shameful in the extreme and it has resulted in the kind of gridlock that stalls the progress of worthwhile legislation. Democrats sought to throw roadblocks in front of Republican President George W. Bush and we’ve seen the payback in the form of even more intense opposition from congressional Republicans who seek to block everything that Democratic President Barack Obama pushes forward.

Each side is pulled away from the center by extremists. “Compromise” has become a four-letter word. Both sides ignore the basis of how legislation is conceived, created and completed.

Remember when Sen. Mitch McConnell declared in 2009 his “main goal” would be to make Barack Obama a “one-term president”?

There you have it. The Age of Collegiality has given way to the Age of Confrontation.

And they call this “good government.” Give me a break.

Not exactly Felix and Oscar, however …

The Hill calls them Washington, D.C.’s newest “odd couple.”

They are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Barack H. Obama, the Democratic president of the United States of America.

McConnell has been saying nice things about the man he once pledged to make a “one-term president.” The one-term notion didn’t work out, as Obama was re-elected in 2012. But hey, life goes on.


I rather like the idea of these men becoming “friends,” even if it’s a relationship of convenience.

They aren’t the first national political leaders to link arms and find common ground in an Oscar Madison-Felix Unger sort of way.

Let’s go back to the 1960s, when Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and Republican Senate Leader Everett Dirksen teamed up to help enact the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts. How about when Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill would bash each other in public, but then toast each other over whiskey after hours? Democratic President Bill Clinton and GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich worked together to balance the federal budget. Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy found common ground in pushing education reform through Congress.

See? It can be done, ladies and gentlemen.

McConnell and Obama are on the same page regarding international trade. The president, in fact, is finding his stiffest opposition coming from the left-wing base of his own party. But he’s got a pal on the other side of the aisle.

The arrangement doesn’t surprise some Capitol Hill hands. “It validates what McConnell has been saying for the last six and a half years. If the president wants to join us on something that’s good for the country, we will work with him. This is an example of that,” said Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman.

Well, for what it’s worth, some of us out here in the Heartland are surprised.

And pleasantly so, at that.


What became of a strong House speaker?

John Boehner seems like a decent enough fellow. I’ve long thought of him as someone whose instincts lead him toward working with Democrats, not against them.

But the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has this problem: It is that some of his fellow Republicans don’t like working with the other party. There seems to be enough of those types to make governing quite difficult for the once-affable speaker.


Boehner today said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the House is a rambunctious place. It’s full of members with competing ideas on how to get things done. He said “I think” I can lead the House.

Interesting, yes? Well, yes.

The speaker was handed a big defeat this past week when the House defeated his plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks. The “rambunctious caucus” of the House, aka the TEA party wing, bolted from his idea, along with a number of Democrats. Some last-minute scrambling enabled the House to approve a DHS funding bill that expires at the end of this week. Then we get to do this all over again.

I’m trying to imagine how past speakers would handle all this rambunctiousness. Would Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas allow it? How about Speaker Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts? Hey, do you think Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia would stand still for this foolishness?

These three gentlemen — two Democrats and a Republican — were among the stronger-willed men to run the House. They all governed with considerable effectiveness. Their secret? My belief is that they all knew how to work with members of the “other party.” They also worked well with presidents of the other party, working overtime to search for common ground.

Speaker Boehner is being whipsawed by his own caucus. It’s not a pretty sight.

By definition, Speaker Boehner is the Man of the Entire House, not just of his or her political party. The partisan roles are filled by the majority leader and the majority whip of the party in charge. The speaker, though, is supposed to look after the interests of all House members.

Boehner has to figure out a way — in a big hurry — to get the rowdy bunch in line.

I have an idea: Pick up the phone, call Newt Gingrich and ask him: “Newt, how in the world can I corral these clowns?”