Bob Dole: Fierce partisan but a man who knew how to work across the aisle for good of the American people
In 1980, Sen. Bob Dole was asked to list the historical leaders who most inspired him. One he named was fellow Kansan President Dwight D. Eisenhower, citing that Eisenhower not only did great things for his state and country but that his leadership also touched the world.
The same could be said for Bob Dole.
A personal experience made that point hit home. In 2019, I was visiting the small Balkan country of Kosovo, which had achieved its independence in 2008. I was standing on a street corner in the capital, Pristina, and happened to look at the street sign. Lo and behold, I was standing on Robert Dole Street. Dole had been a strong supporter of Kosovo during the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and he was involved in the ensuing peace process, something Kosovars have never forgotten.
In August 2020, a statue of Dole was unveiled in Pristina. The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, Phillip Kosnett, said: “Bob Dole has been a leader in promoting the cause of freedom throughout the world. Thus, it was no surprise that he became an indispensable supporter of Kosovo — standing alongside the people of Kosovo in your own quest to build a country strong and free.”
There is also a statue of Bob Dole in Topeka, on the campus of Washburn University. The fact that people in two towns over 5,000 miles apart have seen fit to recognize the unique leadership of one person speaks volumes.
Dole spent 27 years in the U.S. Senate, including five years as majority leader. While he worked on thousands of pieces of legislation, several stand out due to both the number of lives changed and the political skills Dole used to accomplish their passage: The Food Stamp Reform Act of 1977, Social Security Reform in 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
In each, Dole had to work with Democrats to get the reforms through Congress. And in each, he had to bargain and yes, give a little to get a little. At the dedication of his Washburn statue, Dole said: “I believe in bipartisanship. Together we can work out a pretty good compromise. And we did that time after time after time.”
Dole could be a fierce partisan to be sure. But he worked across the aisle to save and reform programs that benefited those who needed a helping hand — not the privileged.
When he ran for Senate in 1974, he stated in a campaign ad that he would make tough votes and decisions, particularly for “those on fixed incomes, senior citizens who never seem to catch up, and the low income and the poor who have never caught up.”
Bob Dole recently announced he has stage 4 lung cancer. This sad news prompted many of us to reflect on his career and to remark on how nice it would be to have him back in the Senate right now. With his old buddy Joe Biden in the White House, you can almost believe that such issues as comprehensive immigration reform and criminal justice reform would be achievable.
As for me, I think Marlena Dietrich’s line at the end of Orson Welles’ film “Touch of Evil” sums up Bob Dole best: “He was some kind of a man.”