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Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked Hardcover – October 1, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 236 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As a top aide to House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Matthews was an eyewitness to the accord that O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan managed to forge in the 1980s, despite their polar-opposite political convictions. Reagan, the conservative former California governor, was a Washington outsider, while O’Neill was a consummate insider, with 28 years on the hill by the time Reagan took office in 1980. The California conservative and the Boston liberal were iconic figures with strong convictions, political savvy, and Irish charm that helped them bridge the gap to deliver on issues including welfare, taxes, covert military operations, and Social Security. Following the assassination attempt on Reagan, O’Neill was the first person to be admitted to the president’s bedside for a private visit, and it was O’Neill whom Reagan tapped to hand-deliver a letter asking Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for a meeting that led to the end of the Cold War. Political commentator Matthews details their different backgrounds and the stumbles and ultimate successes that brought both men to Washington, where they were able to put aside their differences to govern the nation. --Vanessa Bush


“A superb tribute to the neglected art of compromise.” (Stanley Crouch New York Daily News)

"[A] gripping, behind-the-scenes, first-person account. . . . Though he was a front-row participant in the story, he admirably adopts an even-handed approach (not shying away from pointing out O'Neill's missteps) to serve up his big point: political combat is necessary and important for the nation, but it need not be self-destructive and nuclear. . . . Matthews is providing a public service by recounting an era when even the most ardent partisan gladiators could bend toward pragmatism." (David Corn Mother Jones)

“A fortuitous pairing of subject and author. . . Matthews’s account is pleasant reading, both useful and entertaining. . . The book succeeds in making Boehner’s, or the tea party’s, House look like a confederacy of dunces, addicted to 'government by tantrum.' Praise for Reagan’s skill at reaching across party lines also contrasts with President Obama’s stand-offish image. Their clashes looked feverish at the time, but this book is an invitation to join Tip and the Gipper in tall tales about how grand it was in the old country." (Howell Raines Washington Post)

"Chris Matthews draws on his 30-year-old journals for [a] rich new book on Ronald Reagan, Tip O'Neill" (Mike Allen Politico.com)

"Matthews gives us an engaging, inside perspective (with creditable modesty about his own important role) of the mighty struggle between Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill, and how they bent, when they had to, to the national interest. There are many books written by Reagan's White House staffers, but this is the only account (aside from O'Neill's charming memoir) from inside the Speaker's office, and a valuable addition to American political history." (John Farrell author of Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century)

"Amiable but tough-minded. . . . a solid book." (Kirkus)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (October 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451695993
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451695991
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (236 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #390,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Phil (not) in Mågnoliá TOP 50 REVIEWER on October 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow, could the timing be any better for this book from TV personality and "Hardball" host Chris Matthews? His book hit the store shelves on the first day of the 2013 "Government Shutdown", with our domestic politics dominated by the political impasse between our terminally dysfunctional Congress and White House. It offers us the stark contrast of a detailed look at how politics worked back in the 1980's, when the House of Representatives was led by Speaker Tip O'Neill (D-Mass), Ronald Reagan ("The Gipper" **) was our President, and the two parties could actually work together to get things done despite the vast differences in their views.

Tip O'Neill's service in the U.S. House of Representatives began in 1953 (he had been elected in 1952) representing Massachusetts's 11th district (succeeding John F. Kennedy who was newly Senator-elect). He became Majority Whip in 1971, was House Majority Leader from 1973 to 1977, and was Speaker of the House from 1977 until his retirement in 1987. To those of us who still remember those days, he is one of the most colorful and prominent leaders from late 20th century U.S. politics. Ideologically, he was strongly Liberal, with strong views against the war in Vietnam, and he favored Democratic proposed programs such as universal health care and jobs programs.

After serving in the House beginning with the Eisenhower administration, continuing through Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, and having held leadership positions in the House during the administrations of Nixon, Ford and Carter, Tip O'Neill was at the apex of his career, the most senior Congressional leader in Washington D.C., leading the Democrat-controlled House as Republican Ronald Reagan took office following the 1980 election.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is really a love letter from Chris Matthews to Thomas P O'Neill, late of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a highly regarded Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Matthews worked for O'Neill while he was Speaker during the 1980s during the House Democrats' ongoing battle with Ronald Reagan. Reagan's views about government were very complicated, and Matthews really doesn't do it justice. Consequently, Ronald Reagan comes off as a two-dimensional character who landed on the national stage eight years after he finished his two terms as Governor of California. The California political climate in which Reagan began his political rise was highly protean, informed largely by the massive postwar migration to the state that essentially trebled its population. Reagan's views on government were bound to be affected by the huge rise in governmental expenditures and scope that accompanied that four-decade-long population shift. Reagan was also a veteran of the Hollywood make-believe factory, where stagecraft and posturing were a way of life, at least for some. Old-time politicians like Tip O'Neill had no ready answer to the Reagan message, and Reagan had no program other than to lower taxes. The result was a stalemate. Matthews treads over this very lightly, and without much in the way of analysis. But, in his heart of hearts he's a debater and a polemicist, leaving the analysis to others. The upshot is that Matthews, like his old boss is a wonderful storyteller, but he could've done a better job in explaining why Ronald Reagan's political philosophy turned out to be so unlike the matter in which he governed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm both amused and saddened when delving into American politics lately. It happened again due to Chris Matthews' "Tip and the Gipper," but not because of the book. It was some of the reviewers on Amazon who no doubt, simply saw that the "Hardball" host wrote a book. They assumed it was more shock-jock drivel, gave it one star, and advised me not to waste my time.

Here's my bias: I was born in 1957, and I think Ronald Reagan is by far, the best president of my lifetime. Matthews' treatment of him in this book was fair. In fact, Matthews' fairness, even admiration of the Gipper (if grudging, as he'd easily admit) helps Matthews to come off as a pretty good historian here. The last 1/3 of the book consists of end-notes that tie his recounting of facts back to primary and secondary sources, including the personal diaries of both men. I remember the '80s well. I think Matthews gets the history (mostly) right.

Matthews' success at conveying the complex personal dynamic between Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan, makes the book memorable. Brotherly one moment, they could tear each other to shreds in the next. From Matthews' perspective, the brotherly impulse, and the lofty principles each man held that propelled them into public service, trumped most often in both these men's hearts.

Here's one of many passages from the book that make it worth reading and reflecting on. Matthews, at the time Tip O'Neill's media advisor, writes about Reagan's televised speech to America the day after the space shuttle Challenger disaster in January, 1986:

"I watched the president's speech, sitting next to the Speaker. He was as moved as anyone could have been... 'As I listened to him,' Tip would write, "I had a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat.
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