R.W. Apple, Jr.
Could you talk about this pattern of Clinton's and how to some extent it is a
reprise of the first two years as governor...
This pattern of indiscipline has shown up in another way, and that is in what
he has tried to achieve. In Little Rock, he had over-promised during his
campaign, and he had to pull back. He lost after his first term. Later was
elected again and didn't do it to the same degree. Here in Washington he spent
an immense amount of political capital very quickly. A series of controversial
nominees, some of whose names he had to withdraw with concomitant political
damage. Lani Guanier, Zoe Baird, etc. He pushed for legalizing homosexuality
in the military, a very tough issue at the best of times. He wanted to rip out
and reform, rebuild, reinvent the healthcare system in this country. He wanted
to end welfare as we knew it. It was a program for a 1964 Lyndon Johnson
landslide. Not for a 1992 Bill Clinton 42, 43%. You have to do things early
on 'cause you never have quite the mandate in the 3rd or 4th year of your
presidency that you do in your first. But, it's not limitless even at the
And he was not able, or at least he did not, choose priorities carefully, we're
going to do this and this. The rest will have to wait. We'll have to see how
we do in building majorities in the country and on Capitol Hill. Because now
of course a President, regardless of the party alignment in a formal sense,
presidents have to build constituencies issue by issue out of the members of
both parties, because party discipline no longer exists. Well, I think that the
President had trouble mostly because of this quality. Of his over-the-top
quality. Of his failure to have a speed governor, the way cars used to have.
Too many issues. Too many words. Too much, too much, too much.
Lyndon Johnson was a bit like that, I mentioned him a minute ago. But he had
behind him a tremendous political wind. John Kennedy had been assassinated the
year before the 1964 election, making Johnson President. And there was, in the
country, a tremendous willingness, nay, eagerness to enact things that John
Kennedy had talked about, but had thought beyond his reach because of his own
small plurality and mandate. In addition, Johnson had buried Barry Goldwater,
had crushed Barry Goldwater. So, he was able to do all sorts of things, that
most presidents cannot. Clinton took off as if he were Lyndon Johnson in 1965,
immediately after he was elected.
I don't mean to suggest, in any way, that these mistakes were made out of
intellectual or strategic miscalculation. They were made because this is the
kind of man Bill Clinton is. And we tend to repeat our mistakes. Bill
Clinton had two years as Governor of Arkansas and followed it up. In some of the
same way that he followed up the first two years of his presidency. He was
defeated. I have no doubt that Bill Clinton would have been defeated had there
been another election in 1994 with Clinton running for President. There
wasn't. But, certainly, Clinton's unpopularity was one of the reasons for the
huge swing in the Congressional elections. President Clinton was lucky. Lucky
in two ways. Lucky that the presidency has a four year term, not a two year term.
And lucky that the Republicans did so well. The Republicans then
over-interpreted their mandate and the President said to himself, and his
people said to themselves, we'd better clean up our act or we're out of here in
They have been remarkably successful at cleaning up their mandates and that
suggests one of the other amazing qualities of Bill Clinton, and that is he is
never out. He seemed finished, in Arkansas. He seemed finished after the
endless speech in Atlanta, when everyone was laughing at him. He seemed
finished in New Hampshire. Much the same kind of thing that happened to Gary
Hart and had him on the lamb out of the state within 48 hours, had Bill Clinton
fighting back on national television, surviving, though not winning the
primary, and going on to win. He seemed out again after the first 18 months, two
years of his presidency. This fellow, like Bob Dole, is a survivor. To an
unusual degree. Most political careers that end in the White House don't have
that many near-death experiences in them.
Do you have any particular insight into the Nixon-Dole friendship?
I don't think I have any enormous insights. I do have a thought or two about
the relationship. I was at the Nixon funeral when Dole spoke. And it was
evident I think to everyone in that room who had known both men that when Dole
talked about Nixon's father being a failure, couldn't even grow orange trees
successfully in southern California. When he talked about Nixon being hurt by
the fact that his father was a failure. And Nixon listening to railroad
whistles and wanting to move on, he was talking about Bob Dole and Bob Dole's
father. So in the hard scrabble origins of their lives, I think there was a
bond. In the degree to which each of them was a loner I think there was, by
definition, not a bond, but a similarity, and something each could recognize in
Neither Dole nor Nixon has, or had large numbers of close and personal friends,
you had the very strange Nixon friendship with people like Bebe Rebozzo who would
not seem to be normal presidential chums. And Senator Dole while, friendly
with people like Bob Strauss, David Brinkley, others, with whom he goes to
Florida, really in my view has only one, intimate friend, the kind to whom you
confess your transgressions and your fears, and that is Mrs. Dole, Elizabeth
Dole. A very, warm-hearted person who has tons of friends. But at the same
time, a very tough political operative, make no mistake about that. She's a
stainless steel magnolia if ever there was one.
Now as for the hostility between Nixon and Dole, I believe that Dole felt to
some degree, that his good name was being used by Nixon. Dole is very, very
jealous of his good name. He prides himself on his word, the fact that he was
trusted by the other 99 members of the Senate in really--I'm about to use the
word unprecedented but I won't because I don't know all the precedents--in
a highly unusual way. A Senator, a left-wing Democratic Senator, at least as
left-wing a Democratic Senator as we have, said to me that if the Senate had
voted for [a] President in a secret ballot, it would [have] been Dole a hundred, Clinton
zip. Which is much more a measurement of the degree to which Dole made
himself a figure of trust in the Senate as it is the questions about President
Clinton among many senators. Perhaps normal between opposite ends of
Pennsylvania Avenue. At an unsettled political time.
So I don't think Senator Dole liked that much, being a front man and a shill
for, Richard Nixon. But you're right, it was a very tangled, and in many ways,
very deep relationship. I was amazed. Senator Dole cried at the Nixon
funeral, cried while he was speaking or came close that it doesn't really
matter. He was one of those plains stoics, that familiar kind of frontier
figure in our popular culture. But, there is a tremendous well of emotion
there that's bottled up most of the time. And, at unusual and at surprising
times he weeps. That's also not something that most politicians do.
But what about Dole's reputation--being perceived as Nixon's hatchet man, edgy,
You know, Bob Dole, had a reputation, partly earned I guess, for being the
great ax murderer of American politics. The man who would take out anybody with
a single swipe of his trusty blade. I suppose the most remembered, recent
example was his appearance on television, was it with Brokaw? The night after
the New Hampshire primary when he was defeated by George Bush, and when Brokaw
asked him what he had to say to Mr. Bush, he said, I wish he'd stop lying about
my positions, and my policies.
The dark Bob Dole had, at that point, only completely seized the popular
imagination. He has come a long way. He is one of the best-liked people in
Washington. Surprisingly well-liked among reporters who as everyone knows are
a nest of left-wing vipers. He is very well-liked among colleagues of both
parties. He still has his dark side and his dark moments, but, they certainly
are well-hidden and much-suppressed. There was almost universal agreement that
he would never get to the nomination without some highly damaging outburst.
There hasn't been one in this campaign. There hasn't been anything that was
even close to it.
Do you see Clinton and Dole as quite expressive of their generations?
You're leading me a long way down that road to psychobabble here. I think in
some ways, Senator Dole and President Clinton are, expressive of their
generations. Mr. Dole is a member of the war-time and post-war generation,
what I would describe as my parent's generation. The gratification-delayed
generation. You work, you save, you slave, you do what's right. Senator Dole
is for that very reason, very, very, suspicious of feel-good politics and of
feel-good economics. He believes in balanced budgets. That's what they taught
in Russell, Kansas before World War II, and after for that matter.
President Clinton feels other people's pain. President Clinton is to many
people a great exemplar of the Vietnam generation and I don't mean he is that
because he didn't serve, because, the great truth in my mind about the Vietnam
generation is not whether you served there or whether you didn't but that your
life in some way was heavily affected by that conflict, and by our involvement
in it, whether you went to live in Sweden and stayed there or whether, one way
or another avoided the draft, or the Dan Quayle route or the Bill Clinton
route, or whether you went and fought and were ruined and incarcerated like
John McCain. That whole generation, it's a very defining experience, and I do
not think Bill Clinton is any exception.
And yet, both of us talked about the way that they are brothers too.....
Well, there is a brotherhood among elected politicians. They lead ridiculous
lives. They have almost no private lives. Their private lives are stolen in
minutes here, and hours there. Even when they go to the golf course, or sit on
their veranda in Florida, they have to worry do their clothes look silly. Is
it a good moment to be seen to be relaxing or is there somewhere in the world
where people are visibly, that is to say, in front of television lenses,
starving, dying, fighting and it will make you look trivial if you're walking
around a golf course or if you're sunning yourself. It's not only disruptive
of private life in general, it's disruptive of family life. I thought it
significant that Dole chose to write a letter to his daughter Robin just before
he left the Senate. It was the first thing he did when he came to the Senate.
That's a man kind of apologizing for the fact that I'm not gonna be able to
spend much time, I haven't been able to spend much time with you. Likewise,
President Clinton makes a huge effort, as does Mrs. Clinton, not to
penalize their young daughter, Chelsea too much, for being their daughter.
That's something that all politicians are conscious of and tormented by, the
fact that they may be wrecking their kids lives, in pursuit of their own
And then of course there are the policy areas. Bob Dole has supported Bill
Clinton on very important issues. Bosnia was one of them. Events push
politicians with different ideologies and different approaches toward the same
conclusions sometimes. And when it comes to the vote, you can't quite bring
yourself. As critical as Dole was of Bill Clinton on Bosnia during all the time
when we weren't doing much. What he wanted to do was break the UN embargo and
send weapons to the Bosnian Muslims and the White House wanted none of that.
And there was very bad feeling, and there were very hot words exchanged.
Nevertheless, when the President finally bit the bullet and said, we're going
to take part in a peace-keeping force, what do you say Bob, up or down?
Senator Dole basically being Senator Dole didn't have much choice. He's not
given his life and his experience, he's not in the business of telling the
President of the United States he can't do that. So, it's never, as pat as it
seems no matter how different they are. One fat, one thin; one from one
generation, one from another. One a basic conservative or the other a basic
liberal. There is a kind of convergence that sometimes occurs in politicians'