The Quotable Tip O'Neill

On his 100th birthday, we remember his contributions to politics.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tip O’Neill, an icon of Massachusetts politics, would have been 100 Sunday. In Boston, we remember O’Neill, who represented Boston districts in the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years and served as Speaker of the House from 1977 to 1987, as one of the most influential Democratic politicians to come out of Massachusetts.

O’Neill is credited for coining the famous observation that, “all politics is local.” Ultimately, O’Neill knew, voters care about how a politician’s decisions will affect them on a local day-to-day level, and a politician can’t take his constituents for granted.

To commemorate O’Neill’s 100th birthday, we have compiled some other lines from the quotable congressman that you may not be as familiar with:

“It’s easier to run for office than to run the office.”

Discussing the tension between campaigning and governing an office. O’Neill’s only electoral defeat was in his first race, when he ran for a seat on the Cambridge City Council while still a senior at Boston College. His senior class voted him “Class Politician.” After graduating in 1936, he won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

“You better take advantage of the good cigars. You don’t get much else in that job.”

Talking to Vice President Walter Mondale after he was elected. Although O’Neill’s greatest loyalty was to his constituents, he contributed to national issues, and was one of the earliest politicians to come out in opposition to the Vietnam War, breaking away from his party and the President at the time. Internationally, he worked for peace, including being a major force in the Northern Ireland peace process.

The purpose of the present bill is to provide all Americans with a greater opportunity to visit and appreciate these monuments to our glorious beginnings. The people of the United States have always taken an intense and sincere interest in the preservation of their national heritage.”

Explaining his support for a bill that would build an historical park in Boston. O’Neill also introduced a bill that would preserve historical sites in Boston, such as Faneuil Hall, Bunker Hill, Paul Revere’s house, and the Old North Church.

“I’ve known personally every president since Jack Kennedy and I can honestly say that Ronald Reagan was the worst. But, he’d have made a hell of a king.”

About his relationship with Reagan, who was president for much of the time that O’Neill was Speaker. O’Neill used to say that although they clashed during the day, they were great friends after 6 p.m., prompting Reagan to answer the phone with “Tip, is it after 6 p.m.?”

“A good lesson in keeping your perspective is: Take your job seriously but don’t take yourself seriously.”

Despite his dedication to his liberal Democratic ideology, he is remembered as a gifted politician who worked well with other politicians to accomplish goals. President George H. W. Bush awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 for his dedication to serving the public for 50 years, “while maintaining his humor, humility and touch with the people.”