Study Guide

All Politics Is Local

by Gary Hymel, Tip O’Neill

All Politics Is Local Analysis

All Politics Is Local (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

For half a century Thomas Tip O’Neill held political office, much of that time as a member of the United States House of Representatives, serving ten years as powerful, yet respected and even loved Speaker. Known for his humor and story-telling, in ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL, O’Neill reveals what he learned from fifty years of intimate association with master politicians, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan. As he presents his lessons through lively anecdotes, O’Neill makes history come alive and politics both amusing and important.

In a sense, ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL is a modern counterpart to Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE, as O’Neill states a general principle, then uses a story, often humorous, to illustrate it. The difference is that where Machiavelli was realistic to the point of cynicism, O’Neill believes in the essential goodness of the democratic process, while remaining honest about its rough edges. In “Take Care of Your Own,” for example, O’Neill recounts how a behind-schedule Jack Kennedy had to decide whether to meet a group of bishops or a group of nuns. “The nuns I’ll see,” Kennedy replied. “But not the bishops. They all vote Republican.”

Through such commonsense advice and human interest stories O’Neill glides gracefully through the aspects of politics, ranging from campaigning, constituent service, “Using Clout” to “What Every Politician Needs to Know.” He gives the rules of the political game, and no one has ever been more qualified for the task.

In the end, however, for Tip O’Neill, politics was more than a game or even a profession; it was a calling that required a person to have a deeper purpose. “It means jobs, good pay and stimulating the economy to produce them. You can add education and the environment. Those are real reasons to run.” Written by another politician, those words might seem platitudes, but coming from Tip O’Neill toward the end of this brief, witty, and wise book, they sum up the man’s political philosophy and legacy.