One of the hallmarks of U.S. politics in recent years is the seeming inability of opposing sides to work together pragmatically to come up with solutions. It’s not an entirely new phenomenon, but many observers say things are more contentious now than ever before.

In a new book, MSNBC host Chris Matthews shares his memories of a time when two great political opponents did work together for the benefit of the country. Matthews was an eyewitness to this story as a top aide to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, who waged a principled war of political ideals with President Reagan from 1980 to 1986. Despite differences, the two men forged compromises that shaped America’s future.

(Related: Matthews discusses politics with WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey.)

Matthews discussed the book, Tip and the Gipper

When Politics Worked, at the Kentucky Author Forum on Dec. 3, 2013, with interviewer E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. The full audio is here:

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A few moments from the interview:

  • “They fought by the rules.  Yes, they went at it, but Tip honored the honeymoon idea, when a president first gets in you give him his vote, he didn’t use any tricks.  […]  To me it wasn’t so much that they were Irish, it was that they were the same age.  Guys in their 70s, and they’re still working…this is when they have to produce.”
  • “Reagan was a very complicated guy.  He went to the high school graduation of his son, Michael, and said hello to him and congratulations, and Michael said, ‘It’s me dad.’  How sad that is.  He didn’t know his HUD secretary.  People were interchangeable to him.”
  • “I knew the speaker, I knew the guy.  And he could never get over that Reagan was cutting programs for the poor.  He could like the guy, but if Reagan was a Democratic fundraiser and speaker like he was all through the early ’50s, they would have been best buddies.”
Brad Yost is a producer for WFPL News and Louisville Public Media.