Nav Bar
Nav Bar

Ross Baker, Political Science Professor, Rutgers University. He sat at the table while Congressional committees hammered out the nuts and bolts of tax bills.

FL: What are the various elements that make Dole a great deal maker..... the quintessential deal maker?


There are a number of components to being a successful deal maker. One of which is persistence and the ability simply to wait out the other side. To hang in longer. To be able to attend more meetings. Spend longer hours. And simply the ability to out wait the other side. It might be said of Bob Dole, he has iron pants. He has the ability to kind of sit there when other people are fading, when their interest is beginning to fade, when their interest is beginning to wander, Dole concentrates. He stays there. He keeps people focused. He moves the ball along. He doesn't tolerate a lot of rhetoric. He basically wants to get to closure. He's a very good closer. That's one of his real skills. He also understands the political needs of his colleagues. And that's really one of the important assets of a legislative leader, is to understand where you're colleagues are coming from. He knows that a Senator from a petroleum producing state has certain political needs on a tax bill. And he knows that another Senator who comes from a state that has consumers that use a lot of natural gas have certain needs. And you don't get into the business of deal making without understanding that. Without knowing where your colleagues are coming from. What constellation of interests they represent. And he has the ability not only to understand these things, but to combine them with the ingredients of the deal. Understand the complexity. And at the same time, not becoming emotionally involved. Not loving the legislation. Being able to modify it, being able to, even in the extreme case, to abandon it, when it's not going well.

He has a certain kind of humor which does not necessarily play well to a mass audience, but very often serves in tense situations to diffuse tension. And that kind of quality is very prized in him. And I think that he's been able to do this over a remarkably long period of time. He's made a transition from being an extremely partisan, harsh intransigent figure, to being very much an insider. The Senate has remarkable powers, the ability to socialize and domesticate people. Dole may not have any close personal friends in the Senate, but he has lots of admirers. And part of the admiration stems from this ability to fabricate a deal, to take diverse positions and harmonize them. The patience to sit down with colleagues who tend to be prima donnas, who tend to have need for excessive deference and he can defer. At the same time he has an ability to simply assume his regal position as leader and say it's time to close the deal. To put muscle behind his desire to get a deal closed. And certainly in the early days of the 104th Congress, Dole's presence, Dole's adult presence, in the discussions that were going on in the House of Representatives among the younger Republicans was a very important stabilizing factor. Dole simply being in the room added a kind of gravity to the situation. People understood that if Dole was there that the frivolous talk had to stop and the serious crossing of T's and dotting of I's had to begin.

FL: What do you feel to be his greatest defeats, and his greatest victories?


Bob Dole reminds me in some ways of some of the great legislative leaders of the 19th Century. People like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, James G. Blain, who were able to achieve remarkable results in Congress but never became President. And in some ways it was their very legislative expertise that they had, their ability as compromisers that made them less than effective as Presidential candidates. And certainly Dole's previous efforts to win the nomination have not been successful, in fact they've been very embittering. Certainly the 1988 Republican primary has to be one of the great disappointments of Bob Dole's life because I think he really did consider himself to be the superior candidate to George Bush. He regarded Bush as being something of a dilettante, whereas he, Bob Dole, was the serious legislator and the person whose mark was on so much public policy. And when he came out that night after the New Hampshire primary and went on network television, Bob Dole was asked if he had any message for George Bush. George Bush, who by the way, had characterized Senator Dole, because of his ability to make deals and compromise, called him Senator Straddle. A trimmer. Someone who really has no fixed principals just wants to make deals. Dole was seriously stung by this and when asked the question, "What message do you have for Vice President Bush?" he said, "Tell him to stop telling lies about me." And I think that reflects the kind of bitterness that Dole experienced as a result of that.

I would contrast that by the way to defeats that he's experienced with legislation. Because he has not vested emotional interest in legislation, he can lose a vote, he can fail to get an amendment adopted, he can fail to close off debate. All of these things can happen. These kind of setbacks he recognizes are temporary. He lives to fight another day. His big disappointments have been in terms of his trying to get out of the United States Senate and become President of the United States, an office to which he feels himself the best qualified by reason of experience, by reason of dedication and commitment, even temperament. Believes that he can add to the stature of the office. So I think that his life in the Senate as a whole has been a gratifying one. There have been ups and downs. But it's been that effort to get out of the Senate, to transcend the legislative world, that has been the source of his greatest frustration.

FL: Just taking the Senate career, and that long legislative record of his, what's the pattern of successes and what do you think are his most remarkable achievements?


Bob Dole's legislative career has not been characterized by landmark legislation. Bob Dole has been there to put together the ingredients of compromise at times in which it was important that legislation be moved. The good example being the 1982 tax bill in which the country was facing very serious deficits, a combination of the injudicious tax cutting of 1981, plus a very substantial run up in defense costs that were proposed by President Reagan. We needed a tax bill. We needed a tax increase. And Bob Dole's entire career has been dedicated, if there is any single thread running through his career in the Senate, it has been as a deficit reducer. That's the one thing that he really does seem to be committed to. And here was a situation in which the deficit was going to be clearly greater as a result of this combination of tax cuts and increased defense expenditures, and it was an unpopular thing to do. It was one of the more tax phobic times in American history and Bob Dole took that responsibility on. And did it. He was materially responsible for the rescue of the Social Security system around the same time when the Social Security Trust Fund was facing bankruptcy. And one of the proposals from a bipartisan commission was that the cost of living adjustment for social security recipients be deferred, not cut, but deferred for a period of I believe six months. Enormously unpopular thing to do, particularly for Republicans because Republicans have always had that soft spot on Social Security. Yet at the same time Bob Dole recognized that it had to be done and was very deeply involved in that effort as well. But again, those bills didn't have his name on them, but clearly his influence on them was indelible and his role in their ultimate success was not only necessary but probably sufficient.

Similarly with the Social Security Trust Fund problem in 1982/1983. There were recommendations from a bipartisan commission that the cost of living adjustment for Social Security recipients be deferred, not cut, but simply deferred. It was politically a very dangerous, very perilous kind of situation. Dole was very much involved in that as well. But there are other examples of Dole's ability to look at an issue not so much in ideological terms or emotional terms, but very much in terms of political pragmatism and particularly in terms of its political value.

Take food stamps for example. Food stamps were an idea that came out of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. It was associated with names like George McGovern and Shirley Chisolm and so on. And it could have been seen simply as yet another example of liberals throwing money at a social problem. Dole conceived it differently. Dole saw in the food stamp problem not just a benefit program for poor people, but also a tremendous opportunity for Kansas farmers. After all who would be getting the benefits. The benefits would not only go to the people who were getting the food, but also the people who were producing the food. And he was able to see it from both sides. And as a consequence, probably, he is as responsible for the food stamp program as it exists today by his understanding of it, by his creative ability to see the connection between the political value to himself and the good that the food stamp program might accomplish, probably gives him as much as a claim on authorship of that legislation as the Democratic liberals who conceived it.

FL: What do you think of the criticism that is so frequently made of him that his vulnerabilities are the quid pro quos to contributors.


The jurisdiction of Bob Dole's Finance Committee, the Committee in the Senate with which he has been most closely identified over the years, is a realm of technicalities, amendments, situations in which the substitution of a semi-colon for a colon can bring enormous benefits to a single individual, a corporation and so on. The Finance Committee's realm is very much one of that kind of arcanae. That kind of almost metaphysical activity in the area of taxes. Very few people understand the tax code thoroughly. And to function in that environment you have to understand not only the tax code, but the political mechanics needed to assemble coalitions to get changes in the tax code. And Dole was very much the master of that. People who serve on the Finance Committee and on it's House counterpart, the Ways and Means Committee, are people who are best positioned in Congress in terms of getting campaign finance money from large contributors.

Over the years, for example, Bob Dole had received a tremendous amount of support from the tobacco industry and could generally be counted on to be the person who was there to prevent the tobacco industry from losing it's subsidies or from having cigarette taxes increased. At the same time, Bob Dole was able in 1982, to get the cigarette doubled in order to raise revenue. And one of the reasons he was able to do this, despite the fact that he [had] previously been extremely protective of the tobacco industry, that the previous year he had saved the tobacco industry subsidies. And that, the simple fact that he was able to do both those things, to save a subsidy for the tobacco industry in 1981, and to double the taxes on cigarettes in 1982, give you some sense of his nimbleness, of his dexterity politically. And his ability, when the occasion requires it to make some rather dramatic turns.

FL: But regarding the perception of quid pro quos...could you talk about that in some more detail.


Over the years, Bob Dole has used his position as both a member, and later as Chairman of the Finance Committee and ranking member of the Finance Committee, to raise an impressive amount of money. And being on the Finance Committee is very much a kind of Congressional entitlement. It gives you access to people who want something. Very often what they want is nothing more than a very, very small modification of the Internal Revenue Code to benefit them. A good example being the Gallo family. Ernest and Julio Gallo needed a modification of the tax code in order to keep the family interest intact. And this was something that Dole was able to do and when you do things for people, they're grateful. For one thing, they may need you again. They want to keep you in Congress. So you can go to them and you can get campaign contributions and so on and this is something everybody does.

Dole isn't different in kind in that respect, he's just better at it than most. And particularly, he's very well positioned to do it. Because if you are the Chairman of the Finance Committee, you're at the very ground zero of tax legislation. People have to come to you and that gives you an entree to them when they're political resources that you need. This doesn't very often involve a great deal of conceptual work. It's basically people saying, lobbyists who've drawn up the legislation and present it to you and say, "If you change these three words in the tax code, my client will benefit enormously from it." And of course there's an implicit quid pro quo in this. Bob Dole doesn't put his amendments on the block and say "Bid on them." But he's certainly been receptive and I think he understands the connection between the position that he has and the enormous opportunities that if offers him to garner political resources. He becomes a kind of beneficiary of the enormous good will that so many interests are willing to bestow on politicians.

FL: Let's talk a little bit about the Senate as a place for friendship or the lack of. How do you see it expressed in Dole?


Senators rarely have many personal friends among their colleagues. Politics is a very treacherous world. It's not an environment in which you confide very much in people, because the information that you confide can be used against you. So there's a tendency to play your cards very close to your chest. And in that sense Bob Dole isn't different than most Senators. I certainly have found that many Senators, if they have personal friends at all, tend to have friends outside of the Senate and, in fact, outside of politics. It's simply safer. And I that would certainly apply to Bob Dole. I don't know that there are many Senators who would number themselves amongst his closest friends, or that he would denominate as being his close friends.

At the same time, Dole has been in the Senate for a long time, has spent an enormous amount of time with other Senators and as a result of that, a certain kind of comraderie develops. Several years ago, for example, Senator Pat Moynihan was to be the commencement speaker at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York and a group of students were picketing him on the basis of him being the author of the Moynihan Report some 35 years ago which of course was highly controversial, dealing with the problems of the black family in America. And Moynihan was being picketed as being a racist. And when Dole was told about this, he said, "Pat Moynihan, a racist? You've got to be kidding. Pat Moynihan's devoted his entire career and public life to improving the lot of minorities and so on." Again, Pat Moynihan is not Bob Dole's closest friend, they've served together on the Finance Committee. When Moynihan was the chairman of the committee, Bob Dole was the ranking minority member, but over the years, Dole has developed these solid working relationships with colleagues. He is trusted. He's known as a man who keeps his word. He's admired for his toughness. He's admired for his resiliency. He's admired for his pragmatism.

Those are the qualities that go into Senate friendships, as we know them. Certainly they're not the kinds of friendships that ordinary Americans would consider friendships. They lack the warmth. They lack the ability to confide. They don't evoke the same kinds of emotions. But at the same time they're important. They keep the institution going. They're relationships based on trust, on pragmatic political interest, and on at the very highest level, a sort of a desire to do good. And to fashion good public policy.

FL: He had perhaps one close friend. Tell us about that.


About 20 years ago when I was looking into the subject of personal friendships between Senators, I was told to look at the relationship between Bob Dole and Senator Phil Hart from Michigan. Now certainly no two Senators could have had more different political characteristics than Dole and Hart. Bob Dole at the time was certainly known as one of the more jugular Republicans. Someone who was a fierce and unyielding partisan. And Phil Hart was one of the great liberals of the United States Senate. A person who came out of Michigan, who came out of a very strong liberal Democratic tradition and so on. And it immediately raised the question of what in the world do these two people have in common. And the answer was that at the end of World War II, Bob Dole and Phil Hart, who was also grievously wounded in World War II, were recuperating at the same Veteran's hospital. In fact, had adjacent beds. And that was a friendship that arose out of their common adversity and pain. It established a kind of bond between Dole and Phil Hart that was not political. It was probably the one truly emotional bond that he had with another colleague.

Another person who Dole seemed to be genuinely fond of was Richard Nixon. And one of the interesting things that Dole admired about Richard Nixon was that when Richard Nixon approached him, he always extended his left hand, knowing of course, that Bob Dole's right hand had been badly maimed by his, by the wound he suffered in Italy in 1945. But that Nixon was mindful of this infirmity of Dole's, it is said impressed Dole very much. And Dole really was one of Nixon's great supporters. At the time of Watergate he was absolutely unswerving in his loyalty and his dedication to Richard Nixon. And if you remember, of course, giving the eulogy at Richard Nixon's funeral, in a very rare public display of emotion, broke down. His voice cracked, difficulty finishing his remarks. Those kinds of things are rare. But they do show, I think, a side of Bob Dole which is rarely on public display, and certainly is not in great abundance in his history in the United States Senate.

FL: Do you know anything more about that Nixon-Dole friendship?


Well, part of it I think is again, generational. The World War II experience. Although Nixon of course as a naval officer on a supply ship didn't have anything like the experience that Dole had as a member of the 10th Mountain Division fighting in Italy in World War II. But they both came out of that same post-war veteran cohort that was so influential and which included a remarkable number of people. Joe McCarthy, Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois. People very different politically, but united by that common experience in World War II. And I think that really has to be looked upon as one of the great formative experiences of Dole's life. And I think he has tended to connect better with people of that generation, believing, I think, that they sort of see the world the same way. That their understandings are the same because they are shaped by the same experiences. And I think certainly you can see in his relationship with his younger colleagues, that the firmness of that bond just wasn't there. He was open, receptive, totally not dismissive of people, but at the same time in terms of feelings. I think that his emotions are given out very sparingly and they tend to be shared most with people I think who have been through the same cauldron that he has.

FL: It's a truism and I think an important one that both these men are expressive of their generation, and the election might even turn on those differences rather than a political policy. In what way are they expressive of their generations?


I think it's been something of a commonplace for the observation to be made that Clinton and Dole represent the sort of perfect representation and embodiment of their generations and that their values are shaped by, in Dole's case the experience of World War II and in Clinton's, the tumultuous period of the 1960's and early `70's.

I take issue with that. I think that certainly their experiences were important . But these are both politicians. These are both people who take readings on the public sentiment, on the public pulse. They don't want to be too far out of line with what's acceptable politically. And it's hard to know precisely what in their heart of hearts they really believe, what really are their core principals. In some ways both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole are unknowable. That they are shielded behind a kind of array of defenses both personal and political. Images which are contrived, rather than real. Characteristics which may or may not be things that they believe very deeply. It's very hard to penetrate that. It's very hard to get to the heart of both of these men and say here is the undistilled essential Bob Dole, or the unalloyed Bill Clinton.

I think that neither one would have gotten to the stage that they have achieved now if they had been self revelatory. If they had opened up. If they had really let the public know what their most cherished beliefs were. I think that you don't last very long in politics if you are that confessional. Perhaps in terms of details, we know silly trivial things about candidates for the Presidency, yet not really know important things. We know what their favorite foods are. We know what the names of their pets are. We know something about their children. We know about their education. We don't know very much about what they really believe as opposed to what they say they believe because it is politically attractive, expedient, or profitable to say those things.

FL: Might these two candidates be brothers under the skin.


Stylistically certainly President Clinton and Senator Dole are very unlike each other. Clinton does have an ability to soar rhetorically. He has the ability to be the person who presents a grand design. He has a marvelous conversational style. He is very easy with people. You watch him at commencement addresses and he develops a kind of dialogue with his audience. He brings people in. He's a very appealing person. Dole on the other hand can seem very forbidding. He doesn't have that sort of sweetness of disposition, that sheer likability that Clinton has. But at the same time there are some very important similarities between them. First and foremost of course, they are both politicians. One who wants to be reelected to the Presidency. The other one wants to be President. And they have political careers in which they've had to make very significant compromises. We don't know for sure which of their most cherished principals they've had to bargain with and barter away in the course of their careers. But at the same time they've had to make adjustments. Certainly President Clinton has shown himself to be the most protean of politicians. He has been able to anticipate what Senator Dole will do, and preempt him in many instances. I suspect that President Clinton does want to bring the Democratic party to a more centrist location. He certainly has alienated many of the liberals in the party who consider him to have sold out. But this is a very small number of people. They may be influential, they may be articulate, they may be terribly vocal but I don't think they will have a material impact on the outcome of this election.

On the other hand, you have Senator Dole, equally reviled by the most extreme elements in his party. Considered a trimmer, considered a compromiser, considered to be someone who doesn't cleave very decisively to any principal. He's a deal maker, he's a fixer, he's a closer, rather than being somebody who's ideologically pure. So what you have then are a Republican who is trying desperately to avoid the appearance of his party being extreme and hard and vindictive and a Democrat who's trying to come across as a Democrat who is not fatuously generous, uncritical, soft on crime and so on. So basically you have two people who are trying to achieve moderate, centrist positions and to organize their parties around principals which are much more moderate than those that the much more zealous members of both parties would prefer.

FL:Dole's position on Bosnia , and where that comes from.


I think that there's a basic internal check on Bob Dole's readiness to attack an incumbent President. And I think it comes, in a way, from the generation in which he was raised in which people were not driving around with bumper stickers that said Question Authority. Perhaps if bumper stickers had been in vogue at that time, they would have said, Venerate Authority. So as a result I think that, and you can see this in the case of foreign policy and in particular, in the case of Bosnia. Where is certainly would have been to Bob Dole's advantage perhaps to distance himself from President Clinton's decision to commit American troops to the NATO contingent in Bosnia.

But I think that Bob Dole really does come out of that generation that believes that politics stops at the waters edge. That the President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and in that capacity deserves a certain amount of deference. And it tended to blunt his criticism of Clinton. He's not been very aggressive in his attacks on Clinton. Either on Bosnia or on Haiti or any of the other examples. And it's an area in which of course the President is vulnerable. The President had initially been almost truculent during the 1992 campaign and his vow to take action against the Bosnian Serbs. And so on. And once he became President could not be dragged kicking and screaming into foreign policy. He was concentrating on health care reform and the things he felt were important in domestic policy. And then belatedly, the President discovered the fact that in public policy that the President is sovereign when it comes to diplomacy and national security. It seems remarkable that a man so bright and with such a prehensile mind wouldn't have recognized that immediately. But it took awhile for the realization to dawn. And Clinton has just benefited enormously from the initiatives he's taken in foreign policy. There are of course risks involved. At any time in which troops are dispatched there's always the possibility of a problem. But in general, I think he has understood the enormous advantage that Presidents have and you can of course see that in the area of foreign policy, Senator Dole has not been a harsh critic of the President's. He's tended if anything to be supportive. And I think what that comes from I think is really an underlying sense of responsibility. A belief in the awe and the dignity of the Presidency. He's been willing to defer to that. To back off in a sense. And I think it's very much reflective of someone raised in a time when Franklin Roosevelt was President. A man who in the eyes of many Americans assumed an almost celestial role. And I think that Dole is really influenced by that and it has caused him to mute his attacks.

FL: The phrase -- 'the dark side of Dole' -- comes up all the time.


Of course that's the aspect of Bob Dole's character that people find.

The whole question of that sort of dark sardonic side to Bob Dole is one I think that observers find the most intriguing but it's also the most illusive. It defines him in many ways. It tinges his humor with this kind of caustic edge. It makes his outlook on the world somewhat somber in many ways. It makes it difficult for him to evoke the kind of optimism that I think is terribly important for Presidential candidates to summon up. Whereas President Clinton has no problem at all, he seems to be very basically a very sunny optimistic kind of person. And of course when Senator Dole is presenting his vision or trying to present his vision, this sort of dark side gets in the way. In some ways Senator Dole always looks like someone who has just eaten a bad meal. He has that kind of queasy quality to him in some ways. And I think it's hard to trace. I think the obvious thing would be to trace it to the fact that he was wounded in World War II and he suffered too long and so painfully with these war wounds. And perhaps that is the reason.

But you also have to understand I think that this was a boy who was raised in a very poor family in Russell, Kansas, during the depths of the Depression and in his early life, although he was a popular athlete and a sort of diaboliquely good looking fellow in his youth, is someone whose life has been touched by tragedy, has been touched by want and deprivation. And now he has gotten to the penultimate stage where he has a claim on the office that he has felt that he was qualified for most of his public life. To which he's aspired to with great passion and energy. And he sees it within his grasp and it's a tantalizing prize. And perhaps if he were able to rise above the kind of tragedy that touched his earlier life and begin to kind of respond to the more positive aspects of his own career, his incredible accomplishments, he would be able I think to convey to the American people a sense of the possibilities of the Dole administration. But I think it does tend to act as a kind of shadow on him and on his career and on what he wants to say.

FL: Any thoughts on the extreme response to the Clintons?


The Clintons. I don't think that any American President has evoked such strong negative feelings in some circles probably since John F. Kennedy as Bill Clinton does now. Kennedy for reasons of his youth, his attractiveness, his religion, his privilege. In Clinton's case, a sense that I think he's not quite on the up and up. That he's glib, perhaps too glib. That his articulateness is effective but a little bit contrived. That he's overly expedient. That he's not really anchored to any particular set of fixed principals. That he's much more interested in finessing issues than in dealing with them head on. And of course combine that with the fact that Mrs. Clinton is the first, First Lady to have a professional career in her own right. Who does not sit and watch her husband adoringly with that sort of glazed look that campaign spouses have tended to affect over the years. It challenges people.

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