David Maraniss, author
of First in His Class a biography of Clinton.
Maraniss is a Washington Post reporter, served as consultant for
FRONTLINE's "The Choice '96." He has been writing about Bob Dole during the '96 election campaign. Interviewed July 17, 1996
FL: Comparing in a general way Dole and Clinton....
These two men, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, really are brothers in many
senses. They both have that same enormous drive that's pushed them for so long.
They both come out of the great middle of American politics. Essentially
moderates, looking for ways to get things accomplished and not taking stark
Yet in another sense, there's one at least an enormous difference between them,
and I think that's generational. It's voting for your father or voting for your
brother. It's voting for someone who's consistent, tends to present the same
image at all times, or voting for somebody who's constantly searching for image
and constantly changing, and maybe having higher highs and lower lows than the
last generation. Part of it is the test, the certainty of the test that Bob
Dole's generation faced. There were no questions about World War II. The
uncertainty of Vietnam. So with one person you know what you're going to get,
With the other, you're not quite sure. It could be better or it could be
I think it's possible that this election, more than the one in `92,
really could in the end turn on those generational differences. This one
because Bob Dole is seen as so classically representing the World War two
generation and Bill Clinton for better and worse is essentially representing
the post-war baby boom generation. Never have we had such stark, clear
differences on those two images. And that might be in the end what this
election is all about.
FL: What about Bob Dole and the past examples of a darker side to him...
The dark side of Dole came out for the first time in 1974 when his
Senate career was jeopardized in the race against Roy. And he tried to sort of
expiate that and become softer but it kept coming back time and time again. In
1976, he was the vice presidential candidate with President Ford, and down in
Houston at a debate he lashed out against the "Democrat wars of the 20th
century", blaming World War II on a political party, because he felt
And in 1988 when he was losing in his presidential primary campaign against
George Bush he lashed out again and said, "Stop lying about my record." And in
all of those cases, either Dole thought his career was about to end or he
couldn't articulate what he really was. And in all of those cases afterwards,
he felt very guilty about it, and tried to show that he really was a more
tolerant person than he portrayed himself. But nonetheless, publicly he's been
defined with this dark side throughout his career.
I think perhaps at the heart of some of this bitterness that you see coming out
of Bob Dole throughout his career is an internal contradiction about being a
Republican, being represented as the defender of the elite, of the
establishment, when in fact he came out of nowhere, out of Russell, Kansas, a
very lower-middle class place. And so, I think, throughout his career, he's
been facing people like George Bush, the scion of wealth, of Connecticut, and
Walter Mondale in 1976 -- Mondale appointed to every position he'd ever gotten.
And yet, these people were portraying Dole as something other than he thought
he really was, and I think that frustration explains part of that bitterness
that flows out of him at times.
FL: Can you explain or analyze Bob Dole's suddenly switched position on a tax
cut, the deficit....the expedient action here....?
Bob Dole's embrace of a fifteen percent tax cut at this point in his career is
extraordinary. And yet, not really suprising. He is in a sense rejecting twenty
years of his own policy, and sort of the defining policy of those twenty years
in the Senate. And yet here he is, 73 years old and on the verge of the
presidency, and he's a man who's constantly searching for that one magical
idea, that concept that he can't quite find anywhere that'll define everything
for him, coalesce everything for him, make it simple, make it possible for him
to prevail. And he was behind in the polls, looking for that magical idea, and
there it was: Jack Kemp and the fifteen percent tax cut. And so I don't think
it was surprising that he grabbed it.
It was contradictory. It contradicted everything that Bob Dole had stood for in
the Senate for twenty years. And it was expedient. It made sense for him at
this point. He was desperately searching for something. Cutting taxes is very
popular. It's more popular than cutting the deficit. And Bob Dole, when he's
done, it's his last shot at the Presidency, his one real shot at it, he went
for it. I don't think it's that surprising.
FL: And so, we have Clinton and his turn on welfare, Dole and taxes. Another
brothers under the skin example here...?
Bob Dole's embrace of the fifteen percent tax cut and Clinton's decision
to go along with the welfare reform are really of the same piece. In both
cases, you have politicians turning against something that had been a
tradition, either personally for them or for their party, in the search for
victory this year. And both of them are very similar in that way. Throughout
their careers they have manuevered left and right, staying in the middle but
turning against things they believed in at various points to get to where they
want to go, and in that sense they are very much alike.