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Gary Hymel
Gary Hymel
All Politics is Local and other Rules of the Game
ISBN: 0812922972
All Politics is Local and other Rules of the Game
Mr. Hymel, former aide to the late Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, discussed the book he wrote with Mr. O'Neill, All Politics Is Local and Other Rules of the Game. The book contains a series of "political principles," each one illustrated by a story Mr. O'Neill loved to tell. The book was published by Times Books/Random House.
All Politics is Local and other Rules of the Game
Program Air Date: January 23, 1994

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Gary Hymel, co-author with Tip O'Neill of “All Politics Is Local and Other Rules of the Game,” why did the former speaker want to write this book?
GARY HYMEL, AUTHOR, "ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL AND OTHER RULES OF THE GAME": Brian, as you probably know, he was a great storyteller. He probably, more than any politician I've ever known, entertained audiences or was able to defuse a lot of tough arguments, tense situations, by telling a story. It's a lost art; not many people know these stories today. But when Tip was being brought up, the person who could tell a story_and I think it's got something to do with his Irish heritage, being able to tell a story_was the fellow who succeeded. Now, what happened here is that his agent, a fellow named Jay Acton from New York City, got this idea that why not_he had heard all these stories that Tip had told over the years_put them on paper for posterity. So he suggested the form of_ you probably know Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, a book that high school and college students have been required to buy. A lot of them just carry it, but a lot of them use it too. My own daughter says she uses it every day in her work. The Elements of Style would state a principle of grammar and then illustrate it with an example. So Jay Acton said, "Why don't we have political principles listed and illustrate each of them with a Tip O'Neill story." So we kind of drew a mock-up of the book, and what we did was actually go through his first book, which was called Man of the House, his autobiography, and take out the stories that he told in that book and assign a political principle to them just to show the publisher what it would look like. Then Times Books, which is a subsidiary of Random House, liked the idea, and they were the high bidder to do the book. So then we began this process of adding to the stories we already had on paper, and what would happen was, Tip would call me and I'd return the call and sometimes I'd be standing in a pay phone booth in the Senate lobby or out on the road somewhere. He'd usually call me on a Monday,and he would say, "Gary, I thought of three more stories during the sermon yesterday," so I would jot them down. Quite frankly, Brian, I had heard most of them, so a couple of buzzwords would suffice. Then on Saturday mornings_I love to get up early on Saturday morning_I would sit down and write out the stories as Tip told them. Then we would agree on what principle was involved, and I would then bring them and have them typed up and then send them to him and the publisher. This process went on for, I guess, a good part of a year.
LAMB: Go back to the first time you started talking about this book. How long ago was that?
HYMEL: It was actually at the Democratic convention that we met his agent. He had already gotten the idea. But the first real meeting was at the Democratic convention when President Clinton was nominated. We met with the agent, and we decided to go forward. Then I started writing this first draft. Quite frankly, in the end, most of the first draft was eliminated because the publisher felt, since they were in the first book_Random House had published the first book_that we didn't want to repeat them. A couple of stories are in there. Peter Osnos, the publisher, called them evergreen stories, so we just had to put them in. But most of the stuff - 95 percent of it - are new stories, different than the first book.
LAMB: Had you written for Tip O'Neill before?
HYMEL: That's interesting that you ask that question. Of course I'd written speeches for him, television scripts, mainly items of that kind. Nobody ever wrote Tip's stories for him because he stuck them on the front and back and in the middle of all the speeches that we ever wrote for him. But we got into this book just a little bit, and one day he turned to me and said, "Gary, did you ever write a book before?" I said, "Tip, I never took a note." He said, "I know. That's why I like you." Politicians will appreciate that statement, I think.
LAMB: What did he mean?
HYMEL: I think he meant that when people put too much on paper about what's going on, sometimes that ends up getting them in trouble, too. But I had no desire to write my memoirs or to do anything with anything that I had learned when I worked for him, so I think he appreciated that.
LAMB: How long did you work for him?
HYMEL: I worked for him for eight years. Two years I was his administrative assistant as majority leader, and then he was elected speaker and I was AA to the speaker for six years.
LAMB: What did you call him?
HYMEL: That's interesting, too. As you know but maybe our audience doesn't know, I'm from Louisiana_from New Orleans_and had come up to Washington to work for Hale Boggs, who was then the majority whip, in 1965, and he became the leader. As a matter of fact, when he became the leader, he appointed Tip the whip. So two years later, after he was elected majority leader in 1972, he went to Alaska to campaign for a young congressman and never came back. His plane disappeared. Tip then became the majority leader, and I helped in that election. He asked me to stay on and work for him in his leader's office. The first day I worked for him, he said to me, "What did you call Boggs?" I said, "I called him Hale." He said, "Well, call me Tip." From then on I just called him Tip, like everybody else.
LAMB: Did you notice people changed in the way they dealt with him when he became speaker?
HYMEL: Not really. Some people would call him Mr. Speaker, but he didn't change any going from just a congressman when I first met him to becoming the speaker. You know, Tip was a very unpretentious person. He didn't stand on ceremony. As a matter of fact, the thing he liked least about being speaker was the ceremonial functions he had to perform. For instance, when a visiting head of state would come and they're expected to address a joint meeting of Congress, then Tip would try to be perfunctory about it and not make too much of a deal about it. Or when he went to a foreign country and they gave him a medal or something, it usually ended up in a kitchen drawer in his house. But he didn't stand on ceremony. When he became speaker, the year before, Carl Albert had been speaker and it was a bicentennial year and we had a lot foreign dignitaries, a lot of joint meetings, and he had to participate in all this. The first head of state to come in to see him_actually it was an ambassador; it was a courtesy call_ he said, "The king is coming and he would like a joint meeting." Tip says, "Oh, no, we're not going to do that anymore." This ambassador said, "I'll have my man meet with your man, and we'll work out the details." Tip said, "No, excuse me. You didn't understand what I said. We're not going to do these anymore." And he didn't. He made an exception when the prime minister of Ireland came over, however.
LAMB: Did he ever seriously consider going to Ireland as the ambassador?
HYMEL: I don't think it was serious when it was offered. As you know, President Bush really wanted him to do it. I think if it had been earlier and his health would have been better, then he might have considered it. But I don't think at the time that it was offered that it was really serious.
LAMB: Was it a surprise to you when he died?
HYMEL: It was a surprise the way it happened. As you know, we worked on this book all last year, and he had a lot of thing physically wrong with him. He had two bouts of cancer, he wore a colostomy bag, he had very severe arthritis, he had a long history of diabetes, and all these things were acting up on him, the arthritis particularly. It really had inhibited his golf playing, and maybe that was over_the last couple of times he played, he just could go a couple of holes. Then winter set in, but he may probably have never returned to the golf course. The diabetes is something_he told me it had kept him from serving in World War II. The last trip Tip made was to Nashville to make a speech down there. His old pal Dick Fulton, who was a congressman on the Ways and Means Committee, met him and took him around and took him to the speech. This was about a month ago. He told me that right before he was to be introduced, he got a dizzy spell, and he didn't know whether he was going to be able to do anything. But he said they introduced him, and he had only had a little piece of meat and a half a glass of wine. They introduced him, he stood up and he talked for an hour and a half, which was typical of Tip O'Neill_kind of forget the physical. When the spotlight goes on and there's a chance to tell stories, like this book, he was there. The next day he came back to Washington, he went to the doctor and his blood sugar level was about six times lower than what it should have been. That's what it was; it was the diabetes kicking in. We went to Boston on a book tour. We had a great time in Cambridge at the Harvard Coop in which he signed like 180 books, but it took two hours because every person that came up, he told them a story_he knew their grandmother, he knew politics. We had some funny instances there. For instance, the exmayor of Cambridge walked in and Tip sees him_of course, there's a big line still left_and he says, "Bob, come over here"_like buck the line. The mayor kind of hangs back. Tip says, "No, come on, come on." So he crosses this restraining rope and comes over. Tip says, "Let me sign you a book. In fact, we've got a story in here about never buck a line." Bob Healy says, "I know. I read the book already, and that's why I didn't want to come over." So we had a big laugh.
LAMB: What is the story about never buck a line?
HYMEL: One time the Mona Lisa was on exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, and the director had run into Tip somewhere and said, "If you want to see the Mona Lisa, we've got these tremendous lines, but about 15 minutes before we open, bring your office staff over." This was typical of Tip, too. How many congressmen would take their office staff and pile in a couple of cars, drive down to the National Gallery? They walk past this big line. Well, they got booed roundly. It taught Tip a lesson. Of course, it wasn't in the district, where he would have never done it. But they went in to see the Mona Lisa. He puts that in the book, that it's bad politics to buck a line.
LAMB: What's your favorite story or stories in the book?
HYMEL: I suppose the story that he loves to tell and I had to fight hard to keep in the book was the story of the old Irishman who wanted to buy a house. He went to the local bank, and, of course, there was a Yankee in charge of the bank as was the case in those times. He asked for this loan, and the old banker said, "Well, your credit rating is pretty good, you've got a savings account here, so we will probably loan you the $2,000 you need for the house. However, I have one more test you have to pass. I want you to look at me_I have one glass eye_and tell me which is the glass eye." So the old Irishman looks him in the eye, and he says, "The left eye is the glass eye." The Yankee banker says, "Okay, you get the loan. But tell me, how did you know that that was my glass eye?" The old Irishman says, "Because that was the one with the warmth in it." It told a lot about Tip O'Neill.
LAMB: This is a small book. The nice thing about it is it's only $15, which is one of the less expensive books you find in the bookstore. How come so small?
HYMEL: The publisher, once again, thought it would be good to have a tight book of rules, and it would be near the cash register. People would be buying big books, and they would say, "Hey, this looks great. Just throw it in the bag." That's the way they would market it. So they wanted to keep it short like that and a quick read. Tip said “You know, today with People magazine and USA Today - that that's the attention span of people - short.” So that was the theory behind the book, too, that it's a book you can pick up and it's a quick read. I'll tell you a little story about that. We went from the Harvard Coop over to a bookstore called Laureate's in Copley Plaza. One lady stood in line about an hour, and then she finally got to the head of the line and she handed the book to Tip and she said, " "I want you to know I bought your book, but I read the whole thing while standing in line so I'm going to have to give it to somebody else." It's a quick read.
LAMB: How is it selling?
HYMEL: It's doing very well. It came out before Christmas, and so it did very well with Christmas sales. Quite frankly, there wasn't much promotion done during December. The theory was we would do that in January. Last week we were due to be all over Washington at bookstores, signing books, going on television shows - in fact, going on this very show we're on now. This week we'd be going to New York. There are a couple of book shows, and we were going to go on some television talk shows and spend the week in New York promoting the book. The New York Times on Sunday ran a full-page ad in the book section about the book. So it's doing very well. As you know, Brian, we don't have Tip with us any longer, but we have him in this book and he lives on through this book. The principles that he lived by and the ideas that he had are in this book, and it's a chance to keep going.
LAMB: Did you in the last year ever sit down and talk about death with him?
HYMEL: Never, never talked about death with Tip O'Neill. I guess the feeling was he would go on forever. As I said, he had all these things wrong with him, and he used to complain about them. I would call up and say, "Tip, how are you feeling?" because I was genuinely interested in knowing how he was feeling. He would tell me, but it was all these things wrong with him. It wasn't anything new because these things had bothered him for decades. But he was a guy who didn't take doctors' instructions too seriously but kept going. It was an inspiration to anybody who has something wrong with them. The thing that really clobbered him was that colostomy. He went in the hospital, and they told him he'd have to have a colostomy and he'd have to wear that bag the rest of his life. It really depressed him. He talks about it in the book. What happened was - and this is not in the book - a friend of his, a golfing partner, came to see him in the hospital. Tip was going on about how depressed he was about the bag. This guy stood up and dropped his pants and showed Tip that he had a bag. He said, "Tip, you never knew that, and I've been wearing this bag for 25 years and playing golf and living a normal life." It really inspired Tip from then on. So he just plunged ahead.
LAMB: Why didn't he lie in state over at the Capitol?
HYMEL: I don't know the answer. He was in Boston when he died, and he was a Boston person, so I think it was more apropos. The title of the book is All Politics Is Local. He was a local person. The question was raised, why wasn't the funeral in a bigger church? It was a relatively small church. The answer was, that's the church where he was baptized, went to grammar school, high school and was married. He was a local person. So the emphasis was on local.
LAMB: Where did he get the phrase "all politics is local?"
HYMEL: That actually came from his father. What had happened was, Tip lost his first election. He didn't do very well in his own area. His father, who was superintendent of sewers of the city of Cambridge, told him, "Never forget, all politics is local." So Tip really took that as his word. I mentioned to you earlier that the agent had this idea of the Strunk and White format, and we were going to call it The Elements of Politics_like the Elements of Style. Peter Osnos and the people at Times Books took a look at the book. They said, "It's got to be All Politics Is Local. That's Tip." So he added “And Other Rules of the Game.” Everybody is so happy now that was the title because that was Tip O'Neill. Certainly all of the stories that attended his funeral had that phrase in it somewhere.
LAMB: What does that really mean?
HYMEL: It means you've got to take care of your local folks if you intend to stay in office. Tip took it a little step further. He said what he meant by it was that if you keep your local people informed about everything you're doing, about every decision that you have to make - the tough ones - and get back to your constituents and don't hide out in Washington, let them know what you're doing, let them know what the problems are, when you have a tough vote - and you may not vote like they would intend - that they will let you, in effect, get away with it. They will excuse you voting for some national or international thing or they may even not feel that way to start, but because you have shown that you care about them, you've done your work for them and you've kept them informed and you let them know there's an honest problem here in making a decision, that they will be more amenable to letting you do it.
LAMB: "Another time immediately after the Clinton inauguration, I went to a party in the speaker's office run by one of my former employees, Barbara Sutton. My granddaughter Michaela was with me and she got all excited - Michael Bolton had come in - she went over and got his autograph and he asked her, `Who's the old, white-haired man over there signing autographs?' pointing to me. `That's my grandfather, the former speaker of the House,' Michaela said proudly. `Never heard of him,' said Bolton. I told Michaela I'd never heard of Bolton either." You tell other stories in here of his inability to remember names.
HYMEL: Tip wasn't too big in the entertainment field, I would say, in remembering names. He knew the names of politicians, which counted, but when it came to the entertainment world, particularly popular music, which wasn't his music, he wasn't too hip. Also movie stars. You know the story of Robert Redford, which isn't in the book because it was in the first book. He came back from a trip to Denver one time, and he told us that he had been walking through the Denver airport and this fellow stopped him and said, "Speaker Tip O'Neill, you don't know who I am, do you?" Tip said, "Look, I'm on C-SPAN all the time. I'm a popular figure and everybody recognizes me. I've got this white shock of hair, the cauliflower ears and this bulbous nose_I'm easily recognizable. But I don't know who you are." The guy says, "I had lunch with you last week in your office with my wife." Tip says to us, "The guy said, `My name is Richard Roquefort.'" We all looked at him kind of funny_who the heck is Richard Roquefort? Then somebody in the staff remembered,"You mean Robert Redford?" He said, "Yes, that was his name." That was an example. Joe Moakley adds to the story when he spoke at the funeral some months later. Tip was going to dinner downtown_probably at Duke's_and he sees this crowd of people. There's Robert Redford. Now he remembers him, so he goes over and he says, "Hey, Bob, Tip O'Neill. How are you doing?" Redford says, "It's good to see you, Mr. Speaker." They chat for a minute, and Redford says, "I'm glad you remembered me, but I've got to tell you, you just ruined $2000 worth of film." They were filming at the time. That other story about Warren Beatty - and Joe Moakley plays a role, too - is a mini-convention in Memphis, Democratic convention. Joe is talking to Warren Beatty. Tip walked up, and Joe introduces him to Warren Beatty. Tip says, "Gee, Mr. Beatty, you're good looking enough to be a movie star." Joe says, "Don't you know who that was?" Tip says, "Beatty - Clyde Beatty?" Joe says, "No, that was the lion tamer." Anyway, Tip wasn't too big on entertainment figures, I would say.
LAMB: Were there stories that you remember or that Tip O'Neill told you that didn't make it into this book that you wish had?
HYMEL: Probably not. I think we got them all in there.
LAMB: Was this a stretch? Was this hard to do?
HYMEL: No, it was easy, and it was fun. The only stretch was that Tip would tell me a story, and I would put it on paper. But it's different when someone tells you a story; they can go on and off on tangents. You don't pay that much attention because it's the telling of the story that's good. You put them on paper - people would say, "Where's he going with this? Why is this extraneous phrase in here?" I tended to eliminate some of those things. Of course, he would take a look at the draft I had written and say, "No, you're leaving stuff out. You've got to put this in, like I tell the story." I would say, "But, Tip, when people read it, it's got to be a little tighter." As a matter of fact, when the publisher got hold of what I had written, he even further edited it. It took about a year for him to understand that that was the way they had to be written, not so much the way he told it. The Henry Ford story in there, for instance, had never been put on paper. It was some story he told all the time. In fact, it's on an audio tape that he made when he recorded a bunch of the Irish songs that he and Leo Diehl, his administrative assistant, sing.
LAMB: Is this the tape you brought along with you?
HYMEL: Right. It's songs_Irish songs and other songs that Tip and Leo sing, but also on there is this Henry Ford story. But it had never been written on paper.
LAMB: What is the story?
HYMEL: I hope everybody would get the tape. I guess if they write C-SPAN or call; I'll leave the address where they can get it_it's on the back of the tape. But it's a story about how Jack Kennedy appointed him to go over to Ireland for the dedication of the statue of John Barry, who is the father of the American Navy_ not John Paul Jones, as he says in there. Every Irish kid was taught it was John Barry. Well, he goes over and he talks a lot about being in Ireland and how he felt about Ireland. The cab driver brings him by a hospital, and Tip says, "That's a beautiful hospital." The cab driver tells him the story of the hospital, about how when Henry Ford himself had gone to Ireland, he was visited by a local delegation. They talked about how to complete the hospital they needed $5,000. Well, they asked him for 5,000, and he gave them a check for $5,000. The next day the local newspaper carried the headline, "Henry Ford Donates $50,000." So they came back to the hotel to apologize and told him they'd run a retraction in the paper. He said, "How much will it take to finish the hospital?" They said, "Fifty thousand." So he wrote them out a check for $50,000, and he said, "But I want you to put over the portals of the gate to the hospital these words: `I was a stranger, and you took me in.'" But the point was that that story had never been written down, so I got a secretary to take down from the actual tape the story, and so I sent that to the publisher just untouched_that was pure Tip. He took a look at it and said, "To make this thing more readable, we have to shorten it." So it was shortened; the tape has the pure Tip. That's the shortened version, which reads a little better.
LAMB: If a politician were to take this book and adopt all of the principles, would it work?
HYMEL: Brian, the highest compliment I got_I went to a Christmas party, and I spoke to Mike Miller, who's the president of the Senate in Maryland. I was introduced as the collaborator on the book. He said, "I've already read the book and underlined it." That really made me feel proud. I think if any politician would read that book and adhere to the principles Tip lays out, I think he would be successful because Tip talks about some awfully important things to politics, which are loyalty, integrity, telling the truth, remembering the folks back home and not getting above your raising, staying humble, being unpretentious_all those things that the nuns and Tip's father and the priests at BC taught him. He never forgot them; I mean, he lived them. It's easy to say those kinds of things, but Tip O'Neill lived that for 81 years. That's what really made him a special person and why you saw all the accolades last year. It often struck me, why would anybody on the House floor change his mind on a vote because Tip asked him? That was Tip's job as a leader. He had to go to members and some way build 218 votes on the floor. That's what a leader does. If he can't do that, there's no sense being there, so what it is, is compromise. You have to go to a person who's already made up his or her mind about something and say, "Look, we need you to change your mind, and we need you to vote with us to make a majority." Why would anybody do that? Why wouldn't they say, "The heck with you, I've already made up my mind." I think it was because Tip O'Neill was a person that everybody liked. He told stories; that was the basis of his popularity. So people liked to be around him to hear these stories. He didn't use them to teach a lesson; he didn't use them to make judgments or moralize. He told them because they were good stories. So they initially liked him because he was a good person to be around telling these stories. Then they got to trust him, and in most cases it turned into love and they really loved the guy. I think it was because he had no personal agenda. He didn't care about headlines, press conferences, sound bites on television. He didn't meet with his staff every morning at 8 o'clock and plot how he was going to be on the 6 o'clock news. I mean, that was so foreign_he didn't care. In fact, you rarely saw him on those Sunday afternoon talk shows because it interfered with his golf schedule or his getting back home. He went home every weekend. One time, I remember, he agreed to do one of these press shows on Sunday morning, but he made them tape it. They said, "We'll make an exception, and we'll tape it, but on one condition: If something big happens in the world, then you've got to come back." So he taped the show like on a Thursday, he goes off to the Cape for his golfing weekend and that weekend all hell broke loose in Cyprus. So they called him up and said, "You've got to come back." He came back on Saturday night_I mean, he was fuming. We had to prepare him for the show, and then the next morning he went on and he was just steaming because it interrupted his weekend. So he didn't do that kind of thing. He was aware of the press. In fact, he loved reporters and, as you know, he held a press conference every day 15 minutes before the House went in session. The speaker still does that. It's traditional, but some of them shorten it. Some past speakers have, not Tip. He enjoyed the camaraderie and the give-and-take with reporters. In fact, usually the parliamentarian, because the House by resolution is supposed to meet at noon and Tip would still be talking. He would get somewhat anxious to get Tip out on the floor. But, anyway, Tip enjoyed this with the press_the give-and-take on the personal basis. We didn't allow television, and they still don't, into those press conferences because he felt the press then would take over the format. He would much rather be one-on-one. So he wasn't a person who sought publicity, and I think other congressmen and other politicians knew that and knew that Tip wasn't looking to get his name in the paper. So when Tip asked them to do something_change their vote or help_it was because it was good for the country or good for the party. It wasn't necessarily good for Tip O'Neill, so they knew it wasn't his ego asking them, that it was on the merits. I think that's why he could greatly influence them.
LAMB: In the end, why did he eventually approve the idea of television in the House?
HYMEL: I think he knew it was the 20th century. He watched television a lot, so he knew the time had come for television. As you know, it was seven years ahead of the Senate, and he was somewhat proud of that. Now, there were a lot of people who didn't want television in the House, and they raised the specter of members using television for their own personal gain. He knew there was going to be some abuse. The theory was, though, that it would be self-enforcing; if anybody did that, he would lower himself in the esteem of his colleagues. I think that happens somewhat, but there were some instances where it was abused. I remember one time somebody wanted to cut off the debate and continue the next day and not go late at night. Some member went to the Republican leaders, and the Republican leaders came to Tip and said, "Can we keep going a little while longer? One of the congressmen has alerted everybody back home that he is going to be on television and make a speech." It kind of got Tip angry that we would be inconveniencing the other members just for this one member, so he said, "No, the heck with it. We knock it off right now." So he didn't like that part. As he says in the book, there were times when you'd see a member with a blue shirt and a red tie like I have on today and you'd know he'd told everybody, "Watch me on TV. I'm going to make a speech." As I said, he thought that that would take care of itself, and I think it generally has.
LAMB: When did you first come to Washington, and what was the reason?
HYMEL: I came in 1965. I had been a reporter in New Orleans, covering politics. I covered the area right above New Orleans called Jefferson Parish_we call them parishes in Louisiana. The local congressman, Hale Boggs, whom I'd only talked to once before, needed an administrative assistant in the office of majority whip. The instances I talked to him, by the way, were interesting. In addition to working for the newspaper, I was the Louisiana correspondent for Time magazine, and Hale Boggs was on the Warren Commission. When the report was about to be issued, Time called me to verify a quote from Hale. This was the quote; he said, "The Warren Commission findings won't change anybody's mind. Those people who want to believe it was a conspiracy will still believe it, and those who don't, won't." I tell you, those words have stood up this whole time if you've followed the Warren Commission. But anyway, I used to write a column in the paper about local politics. I had written a couple of columns about him and his congressional races down there, so he called me on the phone and said they had this job in the majority whip's office as administrative assistant and would I be interested. I said, "To tell you the truth, I'm really not because I really enjoy doing what I'm doing." The more we talked and the more I got excited about how, as he told me, Congress revolved around the majority whip's office because that's where they did the head counts. So we decided to move north with the family and try this new career, which then turned into 16 years, really, working for the House Democratic leadership.
LAMB: When you came, how many kids did you have?
HYMEL: When we came, we had seven, including a 2-month-old. We subsequently had our son Kevin when we got here, so it's now eight kids, and at this point it's six grandchildren. I have a daughter Judy in New Orleans pregnant with twins and my son Greg here_his wife is pregnant_so in May we'll have nine.
LAMB: Did any of your children go into politics or journalism?
HYMEL: Not politics, but my daughter Amy, my oldest, is the head of public relations at Montgomery College right here in Rockville. My daughter Judy in New Orleans is the head of public relations for the Chamber of Commerce there, and I have a son Greg, who is a teacher. My son Kevin is a paralegal. My daughter Beth is a full-time mother of three in Philadelphia. My daughter Joy is in business development and promotion at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. My daughter Madeline is an accountant in the San Francisco area, in Lafayette. Peggy is a flight attendant for USAir and provides me with the transportation to visit all these other children.
LAMB: What does your wife think of all this movement up here, and what does she think of Washington today?
HYMEL: To tell you the truth, I think it would be fair to say that we made a decision to come up here together. She's not too enamored of all the public life_much more of a private person.
LAMB: You left Tip O'Neill in what year and did what?
HYMEL: In 1981 President Reagan had been elected and came in with his own budget and something we called Gramm-Latta, which was a redoing of the budget into his budget. The night Gramm-Latta was adopted by the House was probably Tip O'Neill's low point in his political career because he was the speaker, yet everything he had talked about in a budget_housing, health, education for the less fortunate_was somewhat trimmed_that's an understatement_in that budget. That was my final night on the job because I had been offered a job by Bob Gray to be a lobbyist for what was then called Gray and Company, which was later bought by Hill and Knowlton, so I decided to go into the private sector_a lot of tuitions on my mind.
LAMB: Since then we've had a lot of controversy about the revolving door. You left government and went to lobbying. What do you think of that?
HYMEL: I think that everything is in the mind of the politician. If he some way lets himself be influenced by what somebody did for him before or has given him, that's where the problem is, and he shouldn't let them be influence. Now, I became a lobbyist. I knew a lot of people on the Hill_I knew members; I knew staff_and then I went back to them, and I continue to go back to them. I hope they see me and let me in the door because they knew me from a previous life and they trust me. I hope that's true. I hope they're predisposed to help me because they know me from the Hill and what I stood for working for Tip O'Neill and what I did on the Hill. After that, though, I would expect them to make decisions on whether to help me based on the merits of the argument that I make. I know that I can't expect them to do something outlandish or something that's wrong, and I never would ask them. They would have to make that judgment. I don't see anything wrong with anybody asking anybody for anything as long as you ask. As I said, I think it's what's in their mind and how they act, and that's the problem.
LAMB:What year did Tip O'Neill step down as speaker?
HYMEL: I want to say 1987. I was gone since `82.
LAMB: Would you go back to him as speaker and ask for favors.
HYMEL: The truth is, I went back to Tip O'Neill one time, and we were representing the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, which was trying to get the Los Angeles Raiders back to Oakland. You might have noticed that we weren't successful. My request to Tip was to see Pete Rozelle to talk about it. That wasn't any big deal. Tip knew Pete Rozelle, and that was very easy to do, but that was about the only time I really asked him to do anything.
LAMB: What do you think most people will take away from this book?
HYMEL: I hope they take away from it a picture of Tip O'Neill himself and what he stood for. Politicians are held in low esteem today, and I think all the polls show that. Tip certainly took a lot of criticism, and the Congress would be up and down but what Tip said, that the pendulum swings in politics, that you may be low, like he was when Gramm-Latta passed and his budget was rewritten. Tip said_and his own members were criticizing him_but Tip knew the pendulum would swing, and by the next election the Democrats picked up 26 seats two years later. The lesson is if you're in there for the long haul and you do what's right, then you'll survive and your ideas will too. That's what Tip did.
LAMB: On the back you have Tip O'Neill's political checklist. "It's a round world, and what goes around comes around."
HYMEL: That's sort of like "the pendulum swings"_same thing.
LAMB: "You can accomplish anything if you're willing to let someone else take the credit." I remember, Ronald Reagan had something on his desk, the same line. Is that the way Tip O'Neill really felt about it?
HYMEL: Yes, he did. Tip was never very big for taking credit for things. I'll give you two examples_television. He was the one who introduced television to the House, and when you think about what that meant, particularly with C-SPAN, it extends democracy, as he points out in the book, which was what Tip O'Neill was about. Tip O'Neill was not afraid of any government institution that was spread to the people. That's what All Politics Is Local is. You tell everybody what's going on. C-SPAN does that; it tells everybody what's going on in the House of Representatives, so he really believed in television. Yet he never would go around bragging, "I'm the guy who put television in the House." Another thing, Tip O'Neill offered the amendment to the House rules that destroyed the seniority system. He offered the amendment that said that if any 15 members in the Democratic caucus ask for a roll call on a committee chairman, they can get one. In the old days, the man or the woman who was there the longest was the chairman_that simple. What it really meant was that they didn't have to pay attention to what the committee members wanted; they could just run over them at will. Well, Tip's amendment said they were going to get voted on in the Democratic caucus, so all of a sudden they had to start paying attention because they had to get the votes. That's what democracy is about. The speaker and the majority leader were elected, so Tip's own position_he had to face the voters, so why not them. So he offered that amendment, but I never heard him mention that once in a speech anywhere. So he really didn't care about having the credit for those kinds of things. If he'd keep the Charlestown Navy yard opened or do something, he'd make sure the people there knew about it, but he didn't go around bragging about himself.
LAMB: You say later in the book that his favorite lobbyist was Evie Dubrow. "She could come into my office without knocking, and she's the only person the door-keepers let sit in their chairs in the entrance to the House chamber." Who is she?
HYMEL: Evie Dubrow is this little bitty lady from New York who is the head of the Ladies Garment Workers Union_at least does the lobbying for them_and she's a fixture on the Hill. I'd say she's probably under 5 feet tall. When Tip would see her, of course, he'd give her a big hug, and Evie would disappear in one of Tip O'Neill's hugs. That's an interesting story too, Brian, because it's got a more contemporaneous ending. Tip took a very active part in the vote on NAFTA. Congressman Bob Matsui, whom Tip liked very much and who really had the charge out of the Ways and Means Committee to get this thing done, called him up and asked Tip to help, and Tip did because Tip honestly believed that we had to knock down barriers, have freer trade_Canada and Mexico. It was something he was really committed to. He was not an isolationist, a person who drew borders and that kind of thing, so he believed deeply in NAFTA. As you know, labor was against NAFTA, and the word came back that Evie Dubrow was mad at him, that she didn't like his vote there at all. There was a labor union meeting in Massachusetts he told me about where a lot of the labor union leaders gathered, and one of them stood up and complained about Tip and talked about doing something. All the other labor leaders stood up and said, "Are you kidding? We're not going to criticize Tip; we wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Tip O'Neill." I haven't seen her since, but I hope Evie's got the same spirit.
LAMB: "Today's adversary may be tomorrow's ally." Is it really true that 118 of his opponents signed an ad on his behalf?
HYMEL: That's certainly what he told me, and I believe it. That's an important point in politics, and that's something that Tip really stood for in the House of Representatives. A tough debate against the Republicans and it looked like these two guys will never speak again but then walk off the floor arm around each other. He often said that foreign parliamentarians could never understand that, but I tell you, what is at work here and Tip often talked about is, when you have a two-year term and you have annual authorization and annual appropriations, you have these fights all the times. The difference between the Democrats and Republicans probably is the Democrats want to do more, want to spend more money than the Republicans do. So you have these economic fights. They're not fights over morals or even principles. They're fights on how much to do for people. So you do your best, but you don't take it personally. I think that's what Tip O'Neill was about. You don't take it personally.
LAMB: Did he dislike anybody?
HYMEL: I would say there were some temporary dislikes, but I think, in the end, he didn't dislike anybody.
LAMB: Anybody we know?
HYMEL: You probably remember there was a congressman from Long Island named John LeBoutillier, and he attacked Tip personally.
LAMB: Conservative Republican.
HYMEL: Yes. And Tip went out of his way to help the Democrat in that area, Bob Mrazek, who was then elected. As a matter of fact, Mrazek told a story about how he went in to see Tip for a committee assignment. He was a freshman; I don't think Tip had ever met him. So he goes in and he says, "I want to be on Appropriations." Tip says, "No. No freshman will get on Appropriations this year. There will be none. So what else do you want?" Mrazek says, "I'm the guy who beat Leboutillier." Tip says, "Have you thought about majority leader?" But anyway, that was Mrazek's tale.
LAMB: If he were to assemble for a dinner his best friends, people that he wanted to be around more than anybody else, who would that be?
HYMEL: It would certainly be Joe Moakley_that was his closest buddy there_ and Eddie Boland, his roommate of 23 years up here. Danny Rostenkowski was very close to Tip. They really understood each other. They didn't have to speak sentences, those two guys, talking about politics. He was close to Jack Murtha. Murtha was the champion of the pay raise and would come into that office every day with a new plan about how to get a pay raise through, which was dear to Tip's heart. Marty Russo was a good friend of his.
LAMB: He mentions in the book Sil Conte.
HYMEL: Sil was very close to Tip. The two couples played bridge together, saw each other socially. Whenever Tip took a trip overseas, Sil was the ranking Republican on the trip so they could keep playing cards. Tip loved him dearly, and I suspect that they're together right now looking at us, Brian.
LAMB: There was also a reference in here to labels. I can't find it quickly, but . . .
HYMEL: Somebody had made a crack about Tip being a "typical Boston Irish politician." which really rankled him because he didn't believe in labeling anybody. He believed that you took people on their merit and their personality as opposed to some label that you'd put on them. He didn't like that at all.
LAMB: "When counting votes, do it yourself. The night before my election as majority leader, I had made all my calls to my colleagues, and feeling confident, went out to dinner with my two administrative assistants, Leo Diehl and Gary Hymel." Do you remember that night?
HYMEL: I sure do. We ran into one of Teddy Kennedy's people, and Teddy Kennedy was going to run the next day for his re-election as the Democratic whip in the Senate. Tip says this aide, "How's your race?" or as they say in Boston, "How's your fight?" It wasn't a race; it was a fight. This aide says, "It's in the bag. We've got them all counted and no problem." Tip says, "Where's Ted?" This aide says, "He's down in Palm Beach." That just shook Tip_the night before an election. Well, the next day Teddy Kennedy lost the majority whip of the Senate, and it really taught Tip a lesson that he wanted to repeat. That's why it's in the book.
LAMB: He says in the book, "Another good piece of advice is, ask your staff periodically, `Am I the same person you went to work for?'" So I'll ask you. You were on his staff. Was he?
HYMEL: From the day I met Tip O'Neill to the day he died, he was the same person. I can say that without fear. He was open and unpretentious.
LAMB: Did he ever make you mad?
HYMEL: Tip O'Neill never made me mad. He certainly made me laugh a lot but never mad.
LAMB: What was the most irritating thing he used to do, where you'd say, "There he goes again? Now you've got to go clean up after him."
HYMEL: I guess it would be sometimes when he would make a mistake, not recognize somebody, and I'd have to go behind him. One time Stan Lundine, who was the lieutenant governor of New York, came in in a special election into the House. I guess he had posed for a picture with Stan and didn't really relate to him. Then we had the press conference, 15 minutes before the House, and he always went up to the last minute. So then he walks out onto the floor. Well, a lot of times he would walk from the speaker's room into the speaker's lobby behind the chamber and then out. Reporters would follow him from the press conference asking him more questions. Tip would always stop and talk to them and answer them. When we got to the door_of course, they couldn't go to the House floor; they'd have to stop_this covey follows him, and then this one person goes onto the floor. Tip turned to him and said, "You can't come out here. You have to stay behind the door. This is not allowed." The guy says, "I'm Stan Lundine, the new member." Tip then had to go take the chair and open the House. He called me up there, and he told me what had just happened. I said, "I don't know what he asked you to do, but whatever it was, you'd better do it." We all laughed about it, too, and so did Stan. That was kind of typical of him, not recognizing somebody.
LAMB: He says in one of his vignettes here that Charlie Halleck of Indiana, the Republican leader, and John McCormack when he was speaker, were two of the best debaters he ever heard. He also says Halleck used to say, "The Senate had the show horses, and the House had the work horses." Did he agree with that?
HYMEL: Yes, very much. He felt that the House is where the real work of the Congress is done_the appropriations bills, the authorization, the plotting, the slugging out through amendments and the real fashioning goes on. He felt that the Senate_it only takes the name of a senator to get a story, whereas a House member has to work a lot harder at it. You know what House members say about the House and the Senate when a House member gets elected to the Senate: "That will improve the intellectual level of both bodies." I think he believed that.
LAMB: In the chapter on Sil Conte and his wife, he quotes the storytelling of Sil Conte, as saying you can never get it right as far as most constituents are concerned. Here's Sil Conte speaking, "When I came home shortly after being sworn in, driving my old car, they were upset because it looked like something farmers used to haul trash. But, by gosh, when I bought a new one, they were sure the lobbyists had gotten to me already." You also go on to say about clothes, "The first time I came wearing an old suit, I heard, `Look at him. Just an old bum.' Yet when I bought a new suit, I heard, `He's gone high hat with that Ivy League suit of his.'"
HYMEL: I think the lesson of that is that you can't please all the people all the time. You just have to be yourself and not worry about it. I think that is the lesson there and that Sil was trying to show, too, and Tip certainly believed in. Tip certainly didn't worry about his appearance, I'll tell you that.
LAMB: The fifth point on his checklist is "You can switch a position, but do it quickly and openly." Why does that work?
HYMEL: I think it works because it shows the people that anybody can change their mind if you have a good reason to do it, but you shouldn't let it drag on, and people then start forming their own theories about why you did it. So if you get back to them, explain to them that they're different circumstances than you first appreciated, then they'll understand. That's a very important point in that book, and every politician has to learn because a lot of times they have to change their position to make a majority. But he felt that if you got back to them and you told them and you were open about it_which he was. What you saw was what you got. He believed in openness. He believed in keeping the constituents informed. There was nothing devious or manipulative about Tip O'Neill. He told the truth the first time.
LAMB: After your experience with this book, did you get the bug to write your own book?
HYMEL: No, as I mentioned earlier, I had never taken a note or anything when I was up there, but I certainly enjoyed trying to help. Barney Frank wrote me a note and said, "Gary, you've achieved a significant accomplishment. You've helped Tip come across as Tip." That certainly was as much as I wanted to do.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. It sells for $15 in your bookstore. It's All Politics Is Local, Tip O'Neill with Gary Hymel. We thank you for joining us.

Of Related Interest:

In a one-hour interview with Tip O'Neill conducted by C-SPAN on Nov. 26, 1992, on the heels of the general election, Speaker O'Neill spoke of his early days in Boston politics and the United States Congress, the role of fairness in politics, his retirement and his plans for the future. SP 326. $5.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.