Nav Bar
Nav Bar

FLN: What about Clinton and Dole.....?


Obviously, the most interesting part of this election is the relationship of Clinton and Dole. What do they think about each other, what's it all about. And Clinton harbored one deep personal resentment for Dole, going back to early 1994 when Clinton's mother Virginia Kelly died, and within eight hours, Dole was on television bashing Clinton on Whitewater at this point, calling for an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater, saying that what was going on in the White House about Whitewater was mind boggling. Dole wouldn't stop, and the day Clinton was burying his mother, several days later, Dole was again on the attack. Clinton told one of his aids, what Bob Dole did on this is unforgivable, when you are burying your mother. Now mother to Clinton is family. He never knew his father. That's not just one parent, that's both parents effectively. So this resentment eats away at Clinton. And he is wondering why, how could Dole do this to me. Where are the boundaries of civility. In one interview, in April of '96 with Dole I raised this, I said there are some things that Clinton resents, and one of them was political and then there was this personal one. And I raised it with Dole, and it was like "What? Bob Dole would never do that, I'm sure that never happened, I would not do that." And I said, well I checked the transcripts and you did. And he just said, no I've talked to Clinton about our mothers, we've discussed this, and then Dole in one of those personal moments, recalls, 'I still reach for the phone as if I want to call my mother,' -- [Fina] Dole who died 13 years earlier. And then he recites from memory, that Russell, Kansas phone number. And Dole begins to cry and breaks down. And recovers, and then insists, no, this wouldn't have happened. And I said well I understand it's true. This was a Saturday interview. Dole's haunted by it all weekend and has one of his aides call the next Monday and say they've checked the transcripts, of course Dole had them get the transcripts, and realized that he in fact had said those things at that time. Dole then drafts a personal letter of apology to Clinton. And sends it off. Dole, several days later, is down at the White House, this is in April of '96, and Clinton takes him into a side room and says, I got the letter I really appreciate it, I read it twice, they look at each other, Dole says mothers are important. And there's this moment, and I did not put this in the book, but the way it was described to me by Dole you almost feel like Dole and Clinton are going to fall into each other's arms, or even get down on their knees and pray, I mean there was this kind of unity of realization about what was lost, that just overwhelmed them. Lasted for a moment. They went out and interestingly enough soon made a deal on part of the budget for a year, and within 48 hours, they are out bashing each other. Mothers are important, but not that important. Mothers are a memory, mothers are the essence of life, but what does this say about both of them, it says that the essence of life for them, is politics now.

FL: You describe both of them coming from different generations, different gifts....


What is politics? Politics is survival. And they both survived. When you look at it, not just the war for Dole, and this life of politics, and running three times, finally getting the nomination; Clinton given up for politically dead in Arkansas and in Washington, and they understand that politics is survival and they respect it in each other. And that's the magnetism, that's, you know, finally entering the arena for the final combat. They know the other person on the other side is a survivor, is just like them. That that person, they may be different, different in age, you can't ah get inside their heads and skin, but you can bring the camera to that final combat which is now going on, and you, how do they see it? who do they see over on the other side? They know, that, as Clinton said to one of his aides, Dole's a worthy opponent. He's somebody who I, Clinton's saying, I could feel secure turning the keys over to should Clinton lose. So it's the same game for him, it's the same business. It's not just the President of Ford Motor Company looking to the president of General Motors. It's about everything, about people who have poured I think in one form or another, every action, every word, every afternoon, every book read, every person that they've talked to, every meal that they've, had has somehow been related to coming to that moment, this moment, for final combat.

FL: What is it about the two of them, in all their differences--in what ways are they united above and beyond being driven by politics in ways that you have to be to go through this....?


Politically, both of them are quite moderate. Quite humane, interested in their own ways in reforming government. But they don't want, as Dole said, we have a heart up here. We're not going to do something cruel. Clinton, all the time, "I feel your pain." And they are, if you put them in a room and said you will be co-Presidents, and you will decide between the two of you what we should do and what we shouldn't do, there would be fights, there would be disagreements, but there is a kind of moderation that both of them possess that is their political identity.

Here's David Donald one of the great historians, saying that Lincoln, perhaps the greatest President, that his most salient characteristic was passivity. And now this is debated in historical circles, but you can look at the lives and the political survival of Clinton and Dole, and you see them delaying decisions, you see them waiting for all of the forces outside, in the country, within the party, within the Congress, within the culture, and they weigh and they measure them and they hold back final decisions. Now a lot of people look at the accounts of the decision making of these men, and see indecisiveness, waffling, ah you could argue that they are just very careful, cautious, political survivors.

FL: Given the defining qualities that you have observed in both of them, obviously the records of both these men, and the sense that you have of them psychologically, what might we expect with each of them?


One of the things Clinton said to one of his aides was the presidency is about making the argument about what is next, where does the country go, what do we do. When you look at both Dole and Clinton, they are centrist, pragmatists, basically moderates, what they would both do with the power of the presidency, if you think about it, Clinton, very young man, would be in his second term if he won, literally could do anything if he won. He could make Hillary Clinton in charge of health care reform again. He could do all kind of things. He would have the kind of freedom, highly unusual in a president. If Dole became President, he would be 73, second term, might be problematic. So in a sense, he would have astounding freedom as a first term President. In the campaign, in the process of looking at what they would do, what they really care about, what their values are, I found that you really have to look inside at the private moments to discover their fundamental attitudes. And their fundamental attitudes are very very similar.

I think, Dole would make the case and probably would behave more as a reformer, oddly enough, would cut government more, would cut taxes more. Clinton would be more of an activist-- well let's get the government to do this, let's fix this with the power of the government. But their fundamental attitudes are very very much the same. And ah, but whichever one we get, we're going to get a President Clinton or a President Dole who are literally freed from the past obligations political and personal, and you know, a very unusual presidency where either of these men in the office would not have the normal restrictions that a president has, that now Clinton has in his first term because he has to be re-elected. So I, in defining where they might take the country, I would put up on the screen a big question mark.

FL: What might be the impact of Clinton's ongoing troubles with Whitewater, the 'Filegate' story and other such problems in his administration ..could you talk about this?


The biggest problem Clinton's re-election campaign, White House and the administration have is getting the answers to some of these questions on the table. Whitewater, the FBI files, very troubling issue. One little scandal, mini scandal after another. And what they all have in common, people feel, and I think rightly, they're not being leveled with--that they are getting straight talk. That the President doesn't call people in and say, God dammit, let's answer this and get the truth out, even though it's not pretty, even though it may be embarrassing. There is this tendency in Clinton which you see through all his life of, how do we spin our way out of it, how do we put out 10% of the truth. How do we try to conceal or delay or obfuscate? And that is a profound problem.

stories of bill | stories of bob | interact | photo gallery | four colloquies | readings | reactions | tapes & transcripts | explore frontline | pbs online | wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation