Thomas knock knees). ” (Gelzinas 6) When Reagan
Thomas P. O’NeillTip was a man who was not bashful to call himself “a man of the house.”Thomas P. O’Neill was a person whose greatest charm was that he seemed”completely out-of-date as a politician.” (Clift) He was a gruff, drinking,card playing, backroom kind of guy.
He had an image that political candidatespay consultants to make over. He knew these qualities gave him his powerbecause they “made him real.” (Sennot 17) His gigantic figure and weatherbeaten face symbolizes a political force of five decades, from Roosevelt’s newdeal to the Reagan retrenchment. He was the last democratic leader of the oldschool and “the longest-serving speaker of the house (1977-1986) and easily themost loved.” (Clift)Thomas P. O’Neill (1912-1994) always knew why he was in Washington, andwhat he stood for. He was a native of Boston and always prided himself on histheory that “all politics is local.
” (O’Neill 1) Tip was a friend of everyone.When ordinary people wanted something of O’Neill he gave it to them. Whenanyone asked him a favor, he would do it. O’Neill served fifty years in publiclife and retired with only fifteen thousand dollars to his name. He devoted hislife and his money to the people of Boston.Tip came of age in the Great Depression, arrived in congress fromMassachusetts in 1952 and “came to power amid the plenty of the ’60s and ’70s.”(Woodlief 4) He was a rampant liberal who “would usually vote yes on any billthat helped people (he once voted to put money into an appropriations bill tostudy knock knees).
” (Gelzinas 6) When Reagan came into office in 1980 biggovernment began to feel the pinch and O’Neill’s big hearted liberalism was onthe way out. In 1980, O’Neill was a target of a clever Republican ad campaignthat pictured him in a limo as a symbol of a bloated out of control congress.The advertisement backfired and it sent O’Neill into folk hero status.
Tip even”made an appearance on “Cheers” as an effect of the advertisement.” (Time 18)Tip said that he “only made one vote that he regretted.” (O’Neill 218)It was a yes vote on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that gave Lyndon Johnsonfull control over all military intervention in Vietnam. He did this because itwas a time when Congress did what leadership asked, in fact there was not onedescending vote in the house on this issue (414-0). Right away he hadspeculation that the White House might use this as a device to open up fullscale war in Vietnam. Tip had many questions about the war in Vietnam, but atfirst stuck with the saying by Samuel Rayburn, “When it comes to foreign policy-support the Pres.”His attitude changed.
He felt if the U.S. was to fight they shouldfight to win, and he did not think this was the case. Student kept badgeringhim with questions of his support of the foreign policy of Dean Rusk, thesecretary of state. Finally a student got him with a question. A student atBoston College, Tip’s alma matter, said, “Sen.
O’Neill you have told the publicabout your many briefings of the war by General Westmoreland, Robert McNamara,the CIA, and even President Johnson but have you ever considered hearing thebriefings of the other side?” This hit Tip head on. He decided to get a goodlook on the other side of the issue.He began his investigation at his best negotiating table, the pokertable. At the Army and Navy Club in Washington. At the table were Generals andother high ranking military officials. Three loosing games and a couple dozendrinks later Tip started to ask questions.
He found that all these pentagonofficials felt that we should not send troops to Vietnam unless we plan to win.Johnson didn’t want the soldiers to take the offensive.They were not the only ones. Most CIA officials and members of thedefense department who openly supported Johnson’s stance were “saying theopposite after a few beers.” (O’Neill 233) Tip was invited to a private dinnerof CIA officials and there everyone he met was openly against the war becausethey felt it was unwinnable, but the all pledged publicly with Johnson. TheseCIA officers said all foreign officials were against the war as well as theAmerican public. They pleaded for Tip to come out into the open to oppose thewar.
They told him to tell Speaker McCormack that the entire CentralIntelligence Committee is opposed to the war. Tip could not because McCormackwas a war hawk that would not oppose the president.In June of 1967, Tip went to Malta for vacation.
By coincidence Maltawas the place where American soldiers were brought from Vietnam for rest andrelaxation between tours of duty. Tip was smoking a patented cigar in a barwhen group of U.S. soldiers entered. Tip introduced himself to one of thesoldiers who was ironically from Buzzards Bay. He recognized Tip and introducedhim to his fellow marines. Tip being himself opened up the bar.
He found fromthe guys that they did not object to being in Vietnam. They did object to theU.S. stategy of the war. The soldiers could not fire unless being fired apron,the could use no land or sea mines and did not select any targets. The troopsdid not understand why they were in Vietnam because they said it was simply aCivil War the U.
S. should have no interest in. Tip came to the conclusion thatwe were in a conflict “that we could not win- that we were not even trying towin- and could be stuck in for years taking huge U.S.
casualties.” (O’Neill 232)In September 1967, Tip made up his mind. He was not going to publiclysupport the war any longer.
The Vietnam conflict was a civil war and U.S.involvement was wrong. He decided not to go to the press (because he never didbefore), but to write a newsletter to his constituents. In the letter he “tookthe stand as a citizen, a congressman, and a father that by remaining in theVietnam we were paying too high of a price in both innocent human lives andmoney.” (O’Neill 233) He outlined instructions for Johnson in the letter. Theyare as follows:”1) Stop further escalation and attempt to bring the conflict before the UN.
2) Stop bombing of the North.3) Promote an Asian solution to an Asian problem.”He sent the letter and told his sun Tommy that he had signed “his politicaldeath warrant.
” (Edwards 25)People in Boston wanted to kill Tip but he knew it was the right thingto do. All his political colleagues and constituents were lost. Every one.
Tip was getting the squeeze from his voters and the democratic party. Hisapproval rate went from around eighty percent to about fifteen. Rioting collegestudents were referred to Tip’s kids. Tip was infuriated at being blamed fortheir actions. The Boston Globe printed a headline in response to riots thatsaid,” O’Neill is Dove, academic community influence.” Tip regarded this is”Bullshit!” and said recently in response,”He opposed the war not because ofthe students but in spite of them.
” (Rosen)When the letter was first sent out no one knew of it actual contents.The Washington Post received a copy of the letter and ran it on September 14,1967. The Secret Service was out to find Tip.
They searched for ten hours. Noone could find him. He showed up at his home three hours after the SecretService gave up. He explained he had hot hand at the card table in a backroomof a local bar.
The President ordered to see Tip the next day.President Lyndon Johnson had a private meeting with Tip in the OvalOffice, his first time alone with the president. The President said,” Tip, whatkind of son of a bitch are you? I expect shit like this from those assholes likeBill Ryan (an ultra-liberal from New York). Tip, I’ve been friendly to yousince you came to Washington, What do you think you know more about this fuckingwar than I do?”Tip replied, “Mr. President, no. But in my heart and in my conscience Ibelieve you are wrong. You can’t fight your damn war when everyone else knowsit is wrong! You can’t expect America to stand behind you when you’re fightingyour war that can’t be won.
“After the President brief Tip on the situations of the war he hugged Tipand told him, “I am glad you had the balls to tell me, I very glad you came into explain yourself… I now understand you are doing this because you reallycare.
“The President saw something that is rare in politics. Tip was not thebest speaker but everybody knew he didn’t care what others thought of him. Hevoted because he “really cared.” (Edwards 25) We must thank God for men likeThomas P. O’Neill. Thomas P. O’Neill did not vote to stay on the public payroll.
Tip was a man who is a better example of how our political system can work.President Johnson decided not to be re-elected as President because he realizedhe caused a terrible war and for that he should never be forgiven. Tip took apossible chance of vanishing into obscurity. Congress eventually swayed onTip’s side and the incident was forgotten in the minds of the public.
Thomas P. O’Neill was Mr. Speaker. He was a man who took all comers andplayed hardball in Politics, and was their instant friend as soon as they leftthe senate chambers.
Thomas P. O’Neill will always be close to home no matterwhere he has gone. “Rest well, and thank you Mr. Speaker.” (Gerald Ford)Works CitedClift, Elanor. “Last Hurrah for Tip.” Newsweek 17 January 1994: 22Edwards, Mickey.
“Let’s hope Tip wasn’t the Last of his kind.” Boston Herald11 January 1994: 25.Gelzinas, Peter. “Despite the pomp, he was a family man.
” Boston Herald 11January 1994, morning edition: 6.Holmes, Gerald. “Thomas P. O’Neill.” World Book Encyclopedia. Volume 14.
NewYork: World Book, 1992.287.”In Tip-Top Shape.” Time 26 January 1987: 18.
O’Neill, Thomas P. Man of the House. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
Rosen, Arthur. “Tip O’Neill.” New Multimedia Encyclopedia.
Groliers Multimedia,1994. IBM CD-Rom.Sennot, Charles.
“The last words for Mr. Speaker.” Boston Globe 11 January1994: 17(25).Woodleif, Wayne. “Family and friends say farewell to Tip.” Boston Herald 11January 1994: 4.W