Thursday, April 4, 2013

Man of the House

1987, 1988 St. Martin's Press edition
Tip O'Neill
Man of the House
Possibly bought newish, for $4.95
Very worn paperback

I wanted to like this book more than I did, but it has some of the flaws of the Donaldson book, without many compensations.  Although O'Neill was 74 at the time this book came out (he died in 1994), he says very little about his first forty years, and almost half of the book is set during his decade as Speaker of the House.  Like Donaldson, he doesn't say very much about his family, which in his case may be partly due to his living away from them most of his time as a Representative.  I learned much more about his Washington roommate Rep. Boland than I did about wife Millie.

I also felt like too much of the book was spent on describing deal-making.  Granted, this is a big part of politics (especially Massachusetts politics), but it's only here and there that I got a sense of O'Neill having higher values than horse-trading.  Even his opposition to the Vietnam War was more pragmatic than idealistic.  I suppose that explains his success, but it doesn't make for inspiring reading. 

Yes, he offers some insights into the many presidents and other figures he knew, but I found his belief in JFK's liberalism laughable and surprisingly naive.  I don't believe that Kennedy was going to pull back from Vietnam, or that he was deeply concerned with civil rights.  On the other hand, I did like O'Neill standing up to Reagan, even when Tip started to receive insults and death threats as a result.

A marginal recommendation, if you're interested in politics and/or the 1970s and '80s, but even more than with the Donaldson autobiography, don't expect the whole man.

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