THE TWO IRISHMEN
Sometimes, I am speechless where I hear the tone and “low road” approach to issues affecting our country today.
For example, I recently commented on a thread about the inappropriate, illegal, and embarrassing acts of the city manager in Camilla, GA when he locked the newly elected mayor out of his office. (According to numerous news reports). While I condemned this action, I was shocked when I read the other comments and responses to my post. Phrases like “get ready for 2nd Civil War”, F***** Trump is to blame”, “backwards *** Georgia”, “anyone who voted for Trump is a racist”, etc.
Those were the milder comments.
Another recent example almost as shocking was when a candidate in a Georgia primary was harassed, booed, interrupted, and not allowed to even speak at an important event. The opponent refused to condemn the outrageous conduct of the supporters. Instead, the opponent hid behind the “freedom of speech clause” in the 1st Amendment.
Now, these examples do not apply to the many good men and women who serve the public and the millions of people who refuse to lower themselves to such depths. But, this trend of partisan ferocity and acceptance of uncivil behavior is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. This applies to the right, left, and otherwise.
Things have not always been this way in America. Vigorous debate over the role of government has been going on since the founding of this constitutional republic. But, at least publicly, the debate and the impassioned battle of ideas seems to have been waged with a much higher degree of civility.
After I saw the posts, I read a column by Chris Matthews, who is not my favorite television host. But, he provided the best example of fierce warriors with opposing viewpoints who treated one another with dignity and respect. The warriors were also friends. The two men he wrote about were President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill.
Reagan was the man with black hair from California who possessed strong conservative convictions. O’Neill, the white-haired statesman from Massachusetts, was the liberal Speaker of the House for many years. Understanding how these very different leaders managed to temper their philosophical divide should be a lesson to all of us.
Matthews wrote, “Over three decades ago, Reagan went to the Capitol to deliver the State of the Union address. His designated ‘holding room’ was the speaker’s ceremonial office just off the House floor.” Matthews was a senior aide to the speaker, and wanted to lighten the mood.
“Mr. President, welcome to the room where we plot against you,” he said. “Oh, no, not after 6,” Reagan replied. “The speaker says that here in Washington we’re all friends after 6.”
For years, the two Irishmen engaged in tough partisan competition. But, there was something the American people liked about their battles. Voters saw these political heavyweights jousting over ideas and dealing with each other as worthy opponents. Citizens clearly felt satisfied that these leaders were genuinely fighting for their respective beliefs.
Matthews said that Reagan wrote in his diary after one of their meetings, “Tip had the last word and it was good one. Another entry: “I’m having more luck with Demos than Repubs. Asked O’Neill if I could address a joint session next week. He agreed.”
Here’s Tip on Reagan: “Away from politics, he’s a charmer.”
They would share lunches from time to time, and always on St. Patrick’s Day. “It’s Tip’s birthday and we had a good time telling stories – Irish stories,” Reagan wrote. That lunch lasted till 3 p.m.
When Reagan spoke at Tip’s goodbye party in 1986, he said: “Mr. Speaker, I’m grateful you have permitted me in the past and I hope in the future that singular honor – the honor of calling you my friend.”
After the assassination attempt, Tip arrived at the hospital to see his friend. The speaker went to Reagan’s bedside, took hold of both his hands and knelt. “Thanks for coming, Tip,” he heard the president whisper. The two recited together the 23rd Psalm. Tip rose, kissed Reagan on the forehead and said he didn’t want to keep him from his rest.
The story of the two Irishmen shows how public servants can recognize and honor their shared humanity, despite their stark differences of philosophy.