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TIP O’NEILL AND THE DEMOCRATIC CENTURY by John A. Farrell

TIP O’NEILL AND THE DEMOCRATIC CENTURY

By John A. Farrell

Pub Date: March 21st, 2001
ISBN: 0-316-26049-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

An affectionate portrait of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill that is long on anecdote and short on substance.

As Boston Globe White House correspondent Farrell puts it at the outset, Tip was “never too big to be parochial.” Throughout a lifetime in politics, O’Neill never transcended the working-class Irish neighborhoods that produced him, which kept him true to his constituency but hampered his vision as he assumed the virtual leadership of the Democratic Party during the early years of the Reagan administration. To hear Farrell tell it, Reagan and O’Neill had much in common despite their ideological differences: “They were broad-brush types who liked a joke and never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Beyond that, both were emotionally distant men who nonetheless projected a warm surface. In O’Neill’s case, Farrell traces his subject’s lack of “personal introspection and intimacy” to the fact that he lost his mother while an infant. It is just this tendency to indulge in pop psychology and glib summations of topics like the Irish character—“From their years as subjects of a cruel empire, the Irish were great ones for an underdog”—that distinguishes this biography from its academic counterparts. However, this trait is not all bad: provocative statements can make for entertaining reading. Who but an unreconstructed Boston liberal could blithely characterize Reagan as a “former Democrat who had embraced the conservative cause after feeling the pinch of the federal income tax on his Hollywood salary”? Farrell offers no apologies (and little support) for this or any of his opinions. What he does provide, however, is a wealth of information about the local politics that formed O’Neill.

A colorful portrait of a—literally—larger than life politician. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen)