by Chris Matthews
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president. He promised big change and he came into office ready to make change. The Democrats, who lost the election, opposed him in Congress but they didn’t obstruct him. They didn’t threaten to keep the Senate right up ‘til Christmas Eve.
The Speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, who I was working for, believed the voters had made their decision and figured the man they elected had a right to his turn at bat.
In 2008, Barack Obama ran for president promising big change. He told the voters he would be a “transformative” president. He promised us one big thing: healthcare reform. Just like Reagan he had made a clear appeal to the voters and came into office ready to deliver the change he had promised.
What’s been different? It’s been the decision by the opposition, this time the Republicans, to use every parliamentary maneuver to stop the new president from doing what he promised the American people he would do, what they elected him knowing he intended to do.
To his historic credit, Speaker O’Neill ended up balancing off the extremes of Reagan’s policies. The Democrats picked up 26 seats in the 1982 election. He and President Reagan teamed up to save Social Security in 1983 and to pass a much-respected tax reform bill in 1986 that cut rates and plugged loopholes.
Tip O’Neill retired in 1986 with a job approval rating of 67 percent. Ronald Reagan didn’t do too bad either. Ironically, their tough debate made both leaders look better. By each doing their job, by accepting majority, by displaying mutual respect and without obstruction, they made America better.