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INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE MCGOVERN


FL: The art of the deal. What does it mean in the Senate? Why is it so difficult? What skills does Dole bring to this arena?

MCGOVERN:

Well, first of all, we should understand that the Senate wouldn't work without the art of dealmaking. If you can't deal with people that disagree with you and work out a compromise settlement on which you can both stand, then you're not going to go anywhere in the United States Senate. You certainly never would be named as the leader of either party in the Senate. Senator Dole was a master in the first instance of getting a majority of his own party to stand with him. That's no small thing to accomplish in the Senate that stretches to Jesse Helms on one hand to Mark Hatfield on the other. But Dole always had an open mind and an open approach to people across the board on his side of the aisle.

But equally important, he was able to reach across to the Democratic leader and key Democrats to find out where they were. What's the bottom line, what do we have to give to get 51 votes for this measure? How are we going to put this budget package together in a way that will command the majority in the Senate. Dole was a master, not so much at twisting arms, but identifying areas of possible accommodation with all kinds of people.

One of the things Senator Dole, for example, knows an awful lot about is the federal budget. He was chairman of the Finance Committee at one time, he was the minority member of the Finance Committee, he saw Russell Long and others wheeling and dealing here to put together a budget package that we could live with. And the way you sometimes have to do that is to go to a recalcitrant Senator and say look, I know you don't like this package but there's some things you want done around here too, ah, you want to get that appropriation of yours through and a lot of other people are questioning that, I'll help you with that. I'll help you get that appropriation through for Wyoming or Louisiana, if you help us out on this budget package. Sometimes that's enough to do it. It doesn't mean that he's betraying his convictions or selling out the country, it means that he's simply being sympathetic who has something he's a lot more interested in than Senator Dole getting a majority for a particular budget package, and he's willing to concede the budget package to get something else. I think that's the way it works.

FL: This presidential race gauntlet. Describe in a very personal way , briefly describe, what's awful about it and what's exhilarating about it. And what can we possibly, if anything, learn about our candidates in the middle of all this.

MCGOVERN:

The awful part of running for President if I can cite a personal example, would be something like this, working for days on a major speech on a major issue, in this case a new housing program for the nation, carefully orchestrating it, delivering that speech, going to your hotel room that night to watch it on television and not finding a line. Instead, finding a reference to two staff members that got into a little jurisdictional squabble over who was supposed to do what in the campaign, and that becomes your coverage for that day. That to me is the worst thing that can happen to you. The best thing that happens to you is the exhilaration of those huge crowds, yearning, leaning forward, their faces filled with hope and excitement and passion. I can't forget those multitudes of faces and outstretched hands for as long as I live.

FL: Are their any other stories about Dole and you that you might want to talk about?

MCGOVERN:

One personal action that Senator Dole took that deeply moved me was asking President Nixon if he would like me [to] attend Mrs. Nixon's funeral. President Nixon said he would and Senator Dole invited me to fly out on the Senate plane. Right after the funeral, President Nixon spoke to those attending, there was just a small number of people there, it was rather a private funeral, and he began by thanking me for coming to the funeral, he didn't say anything about Senator Dole, but I knew how it had been put together, I was the only prominent Democrat on the plane going out. The same thing happened when President Nixon died. Senator Dole called the White House and said President Clinton should not forget to invite George McGovern to this funeral, after all, he was Richard Nixon's opponent in 1972, and he ought to be at that funeral. So I got a call from the White House asking me if I would like to ride out on the President's plane. And I know that came at the instigation of Senator Dole.

So that's the kind of thoughtful thing that he does that one appreciates just on a personal level. When he was about to leave the Senate, he stood up on the Senate floor, even though I had not been a member for 15 years, and he said there are certain people I want to mention with special reference and one is my friend Senator George McGovern. He said sometimes conservative paper taunt me for that friendship and that working alliance I had with George McGovern, but I say to them he's always been a gentleman, he still is in my book. That deeply touched me and I think it did other Senators.

FL: His eulogy for Nixon -- did you have any thoughts about that given how complicated and at moments abusive a relationship that was?

MCGOVERN:

I think with the passage of time, Dole saw Nixon emerging as a more moderate, more humane, more genuine person. He always had an admiration for Nixon's political skills, but I think he saw in the anguish of the Watergate trauma, a different kind of Nixon emerging. And I think that explained the passion in his speech at Nixon's funeral.

I have to tell you I was somewhat surprised when he broke down in tears at the funeral, but Bob Dole is an emotional man, behind that hard partisan edge, you sometimes see, is a person that has genuine emotion underneath. The public doesn't always see that, but people who know him are aware of it. I remember an incident that I think probably had an impact on Senator Dole, I was getting off the little train that takes us from the Senate office building over to the Capitol for a roll call vote just as he was getting on. He somehow missed a step and fell heavily on that steel track, concrete and steel. And his arm, his right arm is not usable, so he couldn't break the fall, he had a bundle of materials under his good arm, and he smashed the side of his shoulder and side of his head on the track, he was in deep pain, I noticed he was actually in a kind of an involuntary quivering from that fall. I helped him get up. And he was hurting bad, physically, but also deeply chagrinned by his helplessness in that situation. I always had the feeling that that incident created a kind of a silent bond between us that neither one of us ever referred to.

FL: He's admired a great deal from across the aisle, but very few people get close to him. Do you see it as someone who is essentially a loner in the Senate and perhaps in his life?

MCGOVERN:

You know, very few Senators have close friends in the Senate. It's not that kind of a body, there's a kind of a collegial atmosphere where everybody is friendly and outgoing with other Senators, but I'm not aware of very many close friendships, the famous friendship between Mansfield and Aitken is one exception to that, there are a few others, but I don't think that Senator Dole is unique in not forming close personal relationships in the Senate. I've heard it said that he's a kind of a loner, I would prefer to say that he's somewhat of a private person, but I'm sure he has a warm relationship with his family and probably is typical of the lack of close friends in the Senate.

FL: I was wondering if you have any thoughts about the kind of work horse that Bob Dole, is he unusually focused on his work?

MCGOVERN:

There are quite a few workaholics in the Senate. I suspect that Senator Dole is more committed to the day to day work schedule than most Senators, he's very conscientious about his job, about his responsibilities. I think he loves to work. It's kind of part of that old puritan tradition that many of us were brought up in. It may also be a part of growing up in the depression out on the great prairies I share some of that same feeling, You have to be working most of the time and that most of what you do other than that is wasted time.

FL: Is there anything else you might share with Senator Dole coming from that landscape, Nebraska's not Kansas, but there's a probably a similar ethos as well.

MCGOVERN:

You know, if I had any one piece of advice to Senator Dole, it would be to work hard at showing the public his best features, of which there are a number. His conscientious devotion to public duty, his concern about the handicapped, I think he has genuine concern for the poor and for the afflicted of all kinds. I'd like to see more of that, and less emphasis on things like repealing the ban on assault weapons or carrying the banner for the hard-line extremists in his party, and I think it's his principle political problem. I'd like to see the kind of Bob Dole that I believe is there underneath that we don't see enough of.

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