Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Man of the House as he aptly called himself in his 1987 memoir, stood as the quintessential Irish-American representative man for half of the twentieth century. O’Neill, often misunderstood as a parochial, Irish Catholic party pol, was a shrewd, sensitive, and idealistic man who came to stand for a more inclusive and expansive sense of his region, his party, and his church. O’Neill’s impressive presence both embodied the clichés of the Irish-American character and transcended its stereotypes by articulating a noble vision of inspired duty, determined responsibility, and joy in living. There was more to Tip O’Neill than met the eye, as several presidents learned. At key moments in his career he was a politician who took risks in the name of principle. In his fifty years in public life, Tip O’Neill grew in every conceivable way, from the size of the suit to the breadth of his vision. Tip O’Neill embodied a type of the Irish-American character that his own kind, even those who have succeeded in America beyond the wildest dreams of their ancestors, might profitably heed.

Reprinted from New England Journal of Public Policy 18, no. 2 (2003), article 5.



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