An amiable but tough-minded political ramble with TV pundit Matthews (Jack Kennedy, 2011, etc.), who records a political mood clearly in need of revival.
“Don’t get caught obstructing the political process. Give Reagan his chance.” So said an aide to Thomas O’Neill, Speaker of the House during the Reagan presidency. O’Neill, as anyone who remembers him will recall, was a blustering, tough Bostonian who came up through the ranks of Congress, a consummate political insider; Reagan, by contrast, liked to portray himself as an outsider somehow innocent of the machine. Yet Reagan also knew a number of things that kept his popularity reasonably high during his terms—for one, that Americans like to feel good about themselves, which he played to the hilt. His politics are still being played out today in the suspicion of all government programs and the conviction that all taxes are bad, which led to what now seems a curious accommodation between O’Neill and Reagan. In trying to push through one set of proposals that involved an increase on some taxpayers, Reagan faced a revolt in his own party and required O’Neill’s help in enlisting sufficient Democratic votes to “sell the public a budget with so large a deficit.” Though it was not all beer and skittles (“Tip refused to let me speak to the House,” Reagan recorded in his diary. “I’m going to rub his nose in this one”), that accommodation spoke to what Matthews regards as a bygone bipartisan spirit that, as he notes, was like gladiatorial combat in that it made each opponent seem stronger and better in the contest simply for each to be up against the other—especially two opponents who liked to out-Irish each other.
The idea of compromise and reconciliation being anathema these days, it’s no wonder nothing happens on the Hill. Matthews’ solid book points to a way out for “people who care about our republic.”