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Cal Thomas: Politics then and now


WORLD Radio - Cal Thomas: Politics then and now

Ronald Reagan knew the art of defusing hostility with self-deprecating humor well worth imitating

A Leprechaun Interrupting President Ronald Reagan'S Issues Briefing Luncheon in Cabinet Room on St. Patrick'S Day, March 17, 1986. Wikimedia Commons Photo

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 13th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Paul Butler.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Today, we step back to the year 1986. A year in which the top music single featured Dionne Warwick:

MUSIC: [For sure, that’s what friends are for.]

1986 was also the year we witnessed a horrific rocket explosion. Audio from the History Channel:

VIDEO CLIP: [Challenger, go with throttle up. It was like a blow to the gut of the nation.]

And in the White House, President Ronald Reagan, a Republican who faced opposition from Soviet Russia as well as Congressional Democrats, men like Tip O’Neill.

BUTLER: And yet, President Reagan avoided bitterness and modeled a humble approach to leadership.

Here’s WORLD commentator Cal Thomas.

CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: Those of us longing for a more civil approach than today’s political warfare should take note of a speech given by President Ronald Reagan at a dinner on March 17, 1986, St. Patrick’s Day. Reagan was there to help honor Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill.

RONALD REAGAN: [APPLAUSE] Reverend clergy, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, Ladies and gentlemen.

Reagan invoked his and O’Neill’s Irish ancestry, but he did more than that. Reagan spoke of a man he respected and even admired in spite of their political differences. As has been frequently noted, they often worked out those differences over drinks at the White House.

Reagan began his remarks as usual with a couple of jokes:

REAGAN: “To be honest, I’ve always known that Tip was behind me, even if it was only at the State of the Union Address. As I made each proposal, I could hear Tip whispering to George Bush, ‘no way, forget it, fat chance.” [loud laughter and applause]

There is a kindness in Reagan on display at the event, even when he was kidding and especially when he kidded O’Neill.

Reagan used self-deprecating humor about his age just as he’d done to great success in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale. Reagan claimed Tip “said since it was March 17, it was only fitting that someone drop by who had actually known St. Patrick.”

Of course, the two had been kidding each other for some time, and Reagan said he hoped that would continue for years to come. Then he said something unheard of in today’s political discourse:

REAGAN: A little kidding is after all a sign of affection, the sort of thing that friends do to each other. And, Mr. Speaker, I’m grateful you have permitted me in the past, and I hope in the future, that singular honor, the honor of calling you my friend. [APPLAUSE]

Can anyone hear Donald Trump or any other candidate for or in public office saying things like that in 2023?

Reagan went on to make an important point that seems to have been lost between then and now:

REAGAN: I think the fact of our friendship is testimony to the political system we’re part of and the country we live in, a country that permits two not so shy and not so retiring Irishmen to have it out on the issues, rather than have it out on each other, or their countrymen.

Reagan said he saluted O’Neill for his “years of dedication and devotion to the country.” He said he had been a “vital and forceful part of America’s political tradition, a tradition that he has truly enriched.”

Kindness and praise for one’s political opponent can affect others, especially voters. As President Abraham Lincoln said about the South: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Is anyone listening?

I’m Cal Thomas.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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