John Aloysius Farrell writes: Lyndon Johnson recognized opportunity when he saw it. The body of John F. Kennedy had been tucked into an Arlington hillside for but a few days when Johnson summoned the leaders of Congress to the White House in late 1963. They were going to seize this moment of national unity, he told the assembled lawmakers, and move the vital legislation—on civil rights, taxes and other pressing issues—stalled in congressional cul de sacs.
To get the tax cut through the Senate, Johnson told the leaders, hewould have to pare federal spending. That meant chopping wasteful programs, like funding for antiquated Navy yards, from the Pentagon budget. They were relics from the world wars, LBJ said, barnacles in an era of ICBMs and nuclear warheads. At his side was Kenneth O’Donnell, Kennedy’s chief of staff.
“Where are you going to close them?” asked House Speaker John McCormack, a flinty Democrat from South Boston, knowing well that the yards were huge employers. Philadelphia, the Speaker was told. Brooklyn. And Boston. At which point McCormack drew on his cigar, turned in his chair, and blew a mighty cloud of smoke in Ken O’Donnell’s face.
“How did it go?’ Johnson wanted to know, after the meeting was done. Well, said O’Donnell, the Boston yard in Charlestown sat in the district of McCormack’s protégé—Rep. Thomas “Tip” O’Neill Jr. —who happened to be the deciding vote on the Rules Committee. “You’ll never get a piece of legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives as long as he’s there,” O’Donnell said. Read the rest of this entry »
Greg Pollowitz notes: I’m not sure this is the type of review Chris Matthews was hoping for from the Times of his new book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. “It’s a nice idea for a book, if only it were true”:
“Ever since our national politics dissolved into a miasma of polarization and strident punditry — which means either the Clinton pseudoscandals or the John Adams administration, depending on your historical reference point — Washington pontificators have waxed wistful for gentler times. In the glow of nostalgia, even ideologues and scoundrels come to resemble civic-minded statesmen who put aside partisanship to broker compromises.
This romantic tendency usually makes for bad history. A few good books have mined the vein — including last year’s overlooked “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis,” by Ira Shapiro, a former Senate aide — but Chris Matthews’s “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked” isn’t one of them. A former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and aide to the House speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. (one of his subjects here), Matthews is best known today as an MSNBC talking head — snarling head, some might say — a kind of Democratic Pat Buchanan giving voice to the resentments of the disgruntled middle class. For those familiar with his brand of confidently asserted overgeneralization, the book is about what you would expect.