Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 53

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 53


This is the grave of Tip O’Neill.


Born in 1912 in Cambridge, O’Neill became involved in politics at a young age, campaigning for Al Smith in 1928. He ran for City Council while a senior at Boston College and suffered his only electoral defeat. In 1936, he was elected the Massachusetts House, starting a long career as a supporter of New Deal-style government programs. He ran for Congress in 1952 and served there until 1987. He was elected Speaker in 1977 after rising through the leadership through the preceding decade. That he called for Richard Nixon’s impeachment at an early point helped raise his profile in the nation. He did not have particularly good relations with Jimmy Carter, but when Reagan took over in 1981, pledged to work with the new president up to an extent, even while often opposing him publicly, which turned out often unfortunately for the people relying on Democratic opposition to the new president’s budget-slashing policies for the environment and working-class. He retired in 1987 and died in 1993.

As part of my mission to make this series even more trivial, I am also starting a new section to document whether an individual has been portrayed in a movie or TV show. O’Neill himself loved the limelight. He starred in an episode of Cheers in 1983 and also appeared as himself in the 1993 film Dave. It does not however seem that anyone has ever played him as a fictional character.

Today, Tip O’Neill working with Ronald Reagan is the wet dream of Broderites everywhere.

Tip O’Neill is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Harwich Port, Massachusetts.

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  • mikeSchilling

    More trivia: he was nicknamed “Tip” after this guy.

    And my favorite Tip O’Neill story. Hr’s just finished giving a speech, when this young, blonde guy comes up and starts “Hello, Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure if you’d remember me ..”

    “That’s not fair, young man. I meet a lot of people. Just tell me who you are.”

    “My name is Robert Redford …”

  • keta

    Chris Matthews, celebrated newsman and noted author, loves to tell stories about the special bond between Tip O’Neil and Ronald Reagan, about how their deep respect for each other superseded partisan political lines and made America super-special in the process. Here’s one of his favourite Tip-Ronnie tales:

    Tip O’Neil was planning a trip to the old country and thought to tap President Reagan’s capacious mind on some travel logistics in Ireland. “Mr. President,” he says, “I was hoping you could help me. What’s the quickest way from Dublin to Cork?”

    President Reagan turned to his special friend, a glimmer of deep understanding, intelligence and special friendship in his eyes. “Will you be on foot, or will you have a car?” asked Reagan.

    O’Neil put his hand on his special friend’s arm to indicate the closeness of their friendship and the sincerity of his bond with the great man, and answered, “Oh, we’ll have a car.”

    “Well,” said President Reagan, placing his hand atop O’Neil’s in a sign of the solidarity of their uncommonly close friendship, “that will be the fastest.” They both then smiled and reflected on how their very special friendship was not only a great good thing for each of their souls, but also for the United States of America and her citizens.

    • MAJeff

      Has Matthews acknowledged that his beloved Reagan Democrats were racists yet?

      • efgoldman

        Has Matthews acknowledged that his beloved Reagan Democrats were racists yet?

        If you hold your breath waiting, you’ll turn bluer than the People’s Republic.

    • JMP

      You may not know this, but Chris Matthews used to work for Tip O’Neil; he’s very quiet about it and doesn’t tend to mention it every other time he opens his mouth.

      • efgoldman

        Chris Matthews used to work for Tip O’Neill

        Which is why I’ve been surprised for years at what a Republiklown asshole he became.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Huh? He’s a New Deal type centrist Democrat who happened to have voted for Bush over Gore and appears to regret that. He’s one of Obama’s biggest fans. When he contemplated running for Senate it was a Dem.

          • DocAmazing

            He’s a New Deal type centrist Democrat

            voted for Bush over Gore

            One of these things is not like the other…

    • And then, without a word, Tip reached down and unfastened the President’s slacks.

      “You know what I always say, Speaker,” the President said folksily. “Just the Tip.”

      • DocAmazing

        You could make a fortune marketing Tip/Ronnie slash fiction to totebaggers.

  • MAJeff

    I did my PhD at BC. Spent far too much of my life in the Tip O’Neill Library.

    • efgoldman

      I did my PhD at BC.

      And you never called, never came over!
      Tip was my congresscritter for years when we lived in Watertown and Belmont. Every time I thought we were moving to Barney Frank’s district, the district lines moved.
      I had the good fortune to meet him a few times when I worked backstage at the PBS auction. He always brought a flag that had flown over the Capitol. (There was a functionary in those days who’s job was to take a bunch of new flags to the roof, and keep running gonfalons up and down the flagpoles all day, so there would be plenty of them to give away.)

      • MAJeff

        And you never called, never came over!
        Tip was my congresscritter for years when we lived in Watertown and Belmont. Every time I thought we were moving to Barney Frank’s district, the district lines moved.

        The busses may have gone to Watertown, but not Belmont!

        Same thing happened to me with Barney. Several moves and so often within a block/mile of Barney’s district.

        • Davis X. Machina

          Belmont doesn’t do busses. Just trackless trollies.

          • efgoldman

            Belmont doesn’t do busses. Just trackless trollies.

            May have changed in the 15 years since we moved to RI, but they ran buses on the weekends because they modified the routes to where the trolley wires weren’t.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            Ah, Belmont: so close to Boston, yet so far away. So close to Route 128, and yet so far away.

      • Porlock Junior

        I believe that flag-initiating function goes on to this day. It exists because Congresspeople in general love to give them away, just as TO did. I know a guy who took over managing the one and only surviving flag company in the USA, which had survived, but not very well, on its monopoly on this trade — no one in Congress is going to give away and American flag made in China!

  • Woodrowfan

    There was a Republican adabout fuel shortages circa 1980 that had a tip O’Neill look alike who keeps ignoring warning s that they are running low on gas

  • Harkov311

    In fairness to O’Neill, his party majority was being held in place for most of its existence by conservative Democrats like Kent Hance, Dan Daniel, Glenn English, Ralph Hall, and Billy Tauzin. I doubt he could have gotten those guys to vote the liberal line on anything.

  • Bloix

    For a blog that regularly ridicules the “Green Lantern” theory of politics (“He. Didn’t. Even. Try.”) this post is awfully hard on O’Neill.

    In 1981, the Republicans had a majority in the Senate and a working majority in the House: 190 Republicans plus 40 members of the “Democratic Conservative Forum” – the southern Democrats who called themselves the boll weevils and who were on the verge of leaving the Democratic Party altogether. O’Neill kept the Democratic voting block together by making strategic compromises, and managed to save Social Security and other New Deal programs from the radical right “Reagan Revolution.” If he had been confrontational with Reagan, he might have kept his skirts clean but the results would have been far worse.

    In spite of his adage that “all politics is local,” O’Neill often opposed the more conservative tendencies of his Irish Catholic constituency. After initially opposing integration of Boston school by busing, he came to support it, taking a position opposed by the great majority of his constituents. After the murder of the Maryknoll nuns in Nicaragua in 1980, he became a strong voice in opposition to Reagan’s cynical and brutal Central American policy, even though Reagan was very popular among the blue collar Boston Irish.

    Not to mention his early and forceful opposition to the Vietnam War.

    Even on the issue of abortion, which tore at his heartfelt Catholic faith, he compromised sufficiently that the Bishop of Scranton refused to attend the ceremony granting him an honorary degree at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit school.

    “In everything you do, you must recall that Christ loved man and wished us, for our own sakes, to love Him. The method by which we exercise that love is by loving our fellow man, by seeing that justice is done, that mercy prevails.” – Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill

    • EliHawk

      Agreed. Also worth pointing out that O’Neill drove harder bargains after the 1982 midterms gave his majority more breathing space; the GOP + the Yellow Dogs stopped having a majority in the chamber.And even then, plenty of his members, north, south, east, and west came from Reagan states and Reagan districts; that’s what happens when someone whens two landslides. It’s to his credit that he fought where he could and worked with the White House when he could instead of trying to be some early version of Mitch McConnell.

    • Ah, this must have been the “Golden Age of the Democrats” era when, some people say, the Democrats were an egalitarian party, New Deal liberals all, before the neo-liberal Clintons swooped in and Ruined Everything, pushing everything further and further to the Right.

      This is not a swipe at O’Neill per se, who, as you say, was trying to hold his caucus together.

      • Ronan

        Do people say that about the 1980s?

        • Davis X. Machina

          It’s more or less implied every time someone complains here about how the Democrats and Hillary Clinton have lurched so far to the right, they’re basically Rockefeller Republicans — and that’s almost daily.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            “every time someone complains here about how the Democrats… have lurched so far to the right”

            that’s just turned into a way for people to signal that they are much purer of heart- and therefore unable to compromise- than the rest of us

            • DocAmazing

              Yes, remembering and pointing out Rickey Ray Rector, Ending Welfare As We Know It, one-strike-and you’re-out public housing policies, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, NAFTA, support for Yeltsin against the Duma, and inventing the Sister Souljah Moment is mere purity-trolling, ‘cuz those policies never hurt anyone, right?

          • Judas Peckerwood

            Back in the 1980s, LGM commenters never made such sloppy, sweeping generalizations.

  • mikeSchilling

    Today, Tip O’Neill working with Ronald Reagan is the wet dream of Broderites everywhere.

    As opposed to the automatic “No!” Obama’s always gotten from Boehner and Ryan? Me too.

    • Mike G

      Bipartisan compromise is only virtuous to the Village Idiots when it’s Dems bending to the Repuke agenda. Never when it’s the opposite.

      • addicted44

        What’s obviously screwed up is that this Tip O – Reagan construction is used to imply that somehow both Obama and Congress are responsible for the lack of agreement.

        I don’t know how much credit can or cannot be given to Reagan, but the current deadlock is almost entirely due to the intransigence of the Republican Congress. Obama has been highly willing, throughout his tenure, to potentially use conservative solutions to achieve his goals but Repubkicans weren’t willing to give him any win, even if it meant an implementation that is the best possible they can ever achieve.

        Another example is the nomination of Garland. The guy the Republican head of the Judiciary committee specifically named as the kind of person Obama would never nominate.

  • LeeEsq

    The grave looks like the type of scale used in a butcher shop to weigh the meat.

  • dp

    Dead politicians are fine, but I miss the dead horses. (They’re mostly much more tragic.)

    • cpinva

      stop beating them to death already!

      sorry, low-hanging fruit.

      i’ll see myself out…………..

  • James B. Shearer

    My favorite Tip O’Neill story.

    There was a Democratic representative who kept getting reelected despite being gaffe prone and reporters asked O’Neill about him. O’Neill explained that the voters in that district didn’t necessarily want to be represented by someone smarter than they were.

    So the representative went on doing dumb things and was eventually defeated. The reporters went back to O’Neill and he explained that the voters didn’t want someone dumber than they were either.

  • bender

    Someone cares enough about him to leave a nice basket of live plants and miniature flags by his grave.

    • skate

      Eric left that there. He just won’t admit it.

    • efgoldman

      I’m surprised he isn’t buried at Mt Auburn in Cambridge.

  • Davis X. Machina

    Tip held the line, with the aid of his housemate Eddie Boland, and a few other old and young Democratic warhorses, against the excellent Reagan adventure in Central America.

    We only had some boots sort of on the ground. Remember “El Salvador is Spanish for Vietnam”? It very well could have

  • Downpuppy

    Tip’s big lesson to all other Mass congresspeople was : stay with your district. Unlike say, Eric Cantor, people like Ted Kennedy NEVER let up on the constituent service. Teddie may have been a big national star, but on Wednesday evening he’d be in a parish hall somewhere helping a widow with her Social Security check.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      He’s still at it, just look at the grave monument.

      Still helping people with tired feet.

    • EliHawk

      Yup, it’s why my 70-something mother still has fond memories of old Herman Talmadge, even after he got caught with his infamous coat full of bribes (and though the Talmadge dynasty was always the scuzzy counterpart to the more prestigous, straight laced Russell and Nunn), because ‘Darn it, he still delivered for the farmers.’

  • JustRuss

    Tip also appeared in a TV commercial, one that has the distinction of being perhaps one of the most pointless wastes of a marketing budget ever, for the Commodore Amiga. So very, very bad. Commodore was trying to set itself up as a competitor to IBM and Apple and shake their reputation as a maker of cheap computers for kids…and they put this on the air:

  • joejoejoe

    If you should pass by Windsor, CT in your Southern New England travels check out the Palisado cemetery at the old First Church. Windsor was settled in 1633. Bart’s Drive In up the street has great hot dogs too.

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