Nav Bar
Nav Bar

July 10, 1996

Senator David Durenburger (R.) Minnesota. He ran prayer breakfasts for the Senate every morning.

FL: Although we can never know what is in the mind or the soul of a person, do you have any insight at all into Dole's religious faith


When you talk about a Bob Dole or any other politician or political office holder, and their personal faith, you're judging somebody by probably your own standards, and if I try to think of a neutral standard, I'll pick Moses, let's assume Moses is a neutral standard, Moses said about leaders he said they oughta be three things---they ought to be God-fearing, they ought to be men of integrity, don't take bribes, and they ought to be leaders. In other words they ought to be able to identify with people and define their choices for them in some way. And I mean I can just say from my personal experience, 16 years with Bob Dole, that all three of those are important to him. Even though I can't tell what church Bob Dole goes to, I know that God-fearing is where it begins, that integrity is number one, with him, and that leadership is his life, I mean it is really the important thing in his life.

FL: You also said that you think that the glimmerings of the faith that you think he has are really rooted in many ways back in Kansas --in the landscape of Kansas, in the valleys of Kansas, in hard work, .....


If we talk about either a Bob Dole or a Bill Clinton, we're not going to just find smart men, or good politicians or whatever you're going to find somewhere in there is a person. And in both of them, that person is shaped in some small town someplace. And there is a religion attached to it. I mean Bob Dole going to church in Russell, Kansas, and Bill Clinton growing up a Southern Baptist in Hope, and the other communities in which he and his family lived. It's sort of like what do you do with it afterwards, I mean, everyone of us has strayed in some way from whatever put us on a spiritual track if you will, in other words, what does a faith in God mean and in the kind of life that you want to lead. And everybody may stray from that in one way or the other.

But some people I think are shaped into the form that their faith gave them early on, much more quickly. And Bob Dole had that shape put on him when he was still very very young. He spent 39 months struggling with his incredible disability. And it has to be that his faith took on a lot of meaning. But at the same time so did his humanity. And what we of the American people struggle with now is the fact that the humanity is still there working on the spirituality. In other words, Bob Dole is not a person who wants to talk to you about what he believes, because he's dealt with that and he deals with that whenever it's important in terms of applying his faith to his life. In many ways, Bill Clinton is similar, except that President Clinton doesn't mind talking about it because it's important to him to be able to do that. Bob Dole is just the opposite, but it doesn't in either case deflect from the importance of personal faith in their lives.

FL: What do you know about Methodism. Midwestern Methodism. That's the church that he went to when he was growing up.


Well, if you want to talk about Russell Methodism, I'm not the guy to talk to. I can't talk to you about Minnesota high Lutherans, low Lutherans, and so forth, and there may be some, some similarity. But the interesting thing in this discussion is that there's probably more of a similarity there between a Hillary Clinton and her Midwest Methodism and Bob Dole and his Midwest Methodism.

Both of those religions are judgmental. Perhaps more so than a lot of others. And there's a sense of being righteous, of seeing clearly good and bad and so forth. But I think at that point, there's a difference between Hillary Clinton and Bob Dole because his belief system is none of your business. He will be judgmental, he does know right from wrong. Hillary Clinton is working to make sure that when she expresses her judgement, that she does it in basically in a politically correct kind of way. And that's maybe more the difference between the more liberal person in Mrs. Clinton and the more conservative person in Bob Dole.

FL: Overall Bob Dole's personal style in the Senate......he's a very private, laconic person isn't he. Has he close relationships with people in the Senate or is it more admiration but at a distance. Do you feel close to him?


Those of us for whom he has respect will feel close, but we won't feel close in the same way we do with a lot of other people. It is the essence of a really close personal friendship is the kind that he has obviously with Elizabeth or with former congressman Bob Elsworth. In which he doesn't mind opening up, you know he doesn't mind trying things on you, you know he doesn't mind letting you see you know where he's, where he's more concerned than he lets on. Or where he's more in doubt than he might let on. But he doesn't do that with very many people. And so in the Senate, I would say the feeling of closeness comes with the respect that Bob shows for your understanding your ability, your trustworthiness, you know your ability to get things done because that's how he sees public service.

FL: Was he someone that you know have relaxed with, and laughed with, spent time noodling at the end of the day.


Well, Bob Dole and I are not going to go out and have a drink together. And I don't know anybody else that would say, Bob let's go have a drink, you know that sort of thing. Bob's got a lot of work to do and when Bob's through with his work at ten o'clock at night or something like that and he picks up.... and off they go to home and Elizabeth. And that is the relationship you have with Bob Dole.

In between that, during those working hours though, you can count on Bob Dole when he gives you his word that he's going to do it. In return for that, when you give Bob your word, you better be there as well. Because, I remember the day after he announced that he was going to leave the United States Senate, I came back here and talked to the men and women who have been around her a long time, who are the sergeant at arms and do a variety of these tasks and they were all down in the mouth. I said why? And they said well Dole is the last person here in the Senate that can be a professional partisan, but at the same time, he can bring this place to consensus. And he never leaves here at the end of the day, without everybody knowing exactly where they stand and where the body is going with the particular challenge that faces it. He brings out the best in a George Mitchell, he brings out the best in a Tom Daschle, I mean over time. And the sense here is that no one can quite measure up to that particular standard, that it is really important to Bob that if he's going to be a partisan, that he's going to be a partisan. But if he's going to be a leader, he's going to get a consensus.

FL: Let's talk about that with some specificity-- the art of the deal, he has a legendary reputation for being able to do it. And for most people outside politics, this is very mysterious. What's involved in getting all these Senators together to agree on something?


The key to consensus in a body of 100 people or however large the body may be, with this incredible divergence of interest that 260 million people in 50 states bring, is the essence of two related things that every American is looking for in a President. Trust and character. If I am going to make a deal, I have to know that however that deal was represented to me, that the person on the other side is going to deliver. That I can have my amendment on this bill or I can't have my amendment on this bill, I can have my amendment on another bill. Whatever my problem is in helping the body come to a consensus, I have to trust what you call the dealmaker, to get the job done.

But I mean the foundation for trust is in character. And I have to know that time after time after time, faced with the identically same situation, the person with whom I'm making the deal, the person always is a person of his word. And that's why Bob Dole is so good, I mean that's why they say they are going to miss him in this place. Is that he does have, the integrity, if you will that Moses talked about, and he does have the leadership ability to tell you that you know you're not always going to get your way. But you are always going to get what you need. And let me help you be the judge of what it is that you need. I mean that is the essence of a good leader. Not getting his way, but helping everybody get in effect what they need during the course of a process, this is probably why you know, a Bob Dole has a hard time answering the question what am I going to do on the first day in the White House, because what he's going to do is what we need done. Not what he thinks, you know, is good here, or is good there, but what we need done. And that in part you can't always leave to us to be the best judge of what we need. You need to develop a consensus around that as well, elections are a large part of what that's all about.

But the other part of it is just basically you have to trust the person that is putting it together. And he is in all of the cases, I mean some really tough cases when he was the majority leader the first time, that famous first of April or rather end of March, the balanced budget vote. Votes on campaign finance reform, I mean the really really tough issues that we've taken, particularly some of us the so-called moderates, who fancy ourselves the bridge builders and then so forth. Dealing with us is even more difficult for a leader than dealing with someone who is clearly positioned as a liberal on the left or a conservative on the right with very predictable needs as well as very predictable aspirations. That that vote on the balanced budget in 1985 was just an incredible display of trust.

I remember three Republicans cast their no votes and walked out of the room very quickly because they couldn't trust themselves to stay in that room and face everybody else who was there because their judgement was different. But I also remember seeing the two senators from North Carolina who had to cast their first ever vote as I recall on the tobacco tax or something like that. John Eastland looked at Jesse Helms and Jesse said hey we gotta do this one because it's the right thing to do. As Dole had presented it. And so he said are you going to do it, and Jesse said yep. And John went up there and he cast his vote. Bob Dole, because you know where he stands, and you know why he's standing there, has the ability to bring that out of a Jesse Helms or out of a lot of other people. That particular case, he didn't know that both Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were going to pull the rug out from under him. But he did what he and a lot of other Americans believed at that time was a really important thing to do and that is balance the federal budget. The price of doing that for individual senators would vary, you know there was the tobacco tax in there, social security freeze, but on the whole imagine what this country would have been like if we could have put that deficit behind us.

I mean that night will be remembered by everybody as 1:45 in the morning --and Pete Wilson who had his appendix out that morning--was wheeled in on a gurney with that great big Pete Wilson smile on his face voting "I."

And then Ed Zarinski being the only Democrat from Nebraska coming up and casting another I vote. Which made it 50 to 49. And that's kind of what people remember, but the context is different, the context you have to go back all the way to the beginning of 1981, and you have to look at this period from '81 to '85. Ronald Reagan is elected, 20 Republican senators are elected, or 16 Republican senators something like that, I mean Republicans are going to take over the Congress, we're going to get government off your back, out of your pockets, drop your tax rates you know, do all that sort of stuff, and in 1981 on July 31st or something like that, we did it, I mean we did it. There were dramatic changes in the tax code, the income tax rate, the marginal rate was brought down and all kind of enormous changes in the tax code. But by the next year, we understood that just dealing with certain forms of tax spending wasn't enough to deal with the problems of inflation and all those other issues, impact on the spending, we had this big deficit.

So the next year, again remember Bob Dole is the new chairman of the Finance Committee. He has to deal with all the tax issues, and he has to deal with the health care issues, medicare, medicaid, social security, I mean all of the big money issues are in the finance committee. So the first year, gets government off your back, reduces the tax rate and so forth, the next year has to deal with a very large deficit beginning to build up in a large part because of the prevalence of inflation.

So in the second year, he's proposing a $960 billion tax increase. And, you know, if you're a Republican, you really swallow on that one. but then that begins to shape the future. Until you get to 1983 when you have to deal with Social Security. Social Security is like 8 days from your paycheck to your mother's Social Security. Well that 8 days, you gotta deal with that one. So what do they do? They raise payroll taxes in order to to balance that so again we're back to that one. And meanwhile, even though the economy is beginning to behave better, the impact of tax rates on tax revenue is not keeping up with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all the rest of these things.

So Bob Dole goes to work on Medicare and Medicaid. You know in 1983 we began the reforms in that area. So each year, we're struggling. We got our high on this cloth that shows the deficit going like this, and we're struggling with the only tools we have available to us which are either the tax code, medicare, created BRGs prospectively priced hospital payments and all things like that, we're struggling on all fronts with an economy that is when an economy grows slowly, the spending side of it, the legacy of the past 30 years or something like that, keeps those spending numbers going up much faster than this. So we come to the first part of 1985 and the issue was all about the deficit, and how are you going to deal with it? And your choices are you're either going to put everything on automatic pilot, somebody says we're going have to limit everything to two percent growth, somebody else says the KBG freeze, [Kasenbaum, Baucus and Grassly,] we're just going to freeze everything, everybody has either a gimmicky approach to it, or something that's kind of real. Bob Dole deal in the real. So Bob Dole comes up with some combination of some tax increases, Social Security freeze, some Medicare part freezes, you know, we're going to try to slow down the spending like that and we're going to try to get the taxes up like that and if we do it by 1990, we should have a balanced budget. And to get people that that's an important thing to do, is probably requires two things.

Number one, they gotta trust you to know what you're talking about. You're the chairman of the Finance Committee, you've been around for 20, 25 years, you're not going to lead anybody down a blind path. You really believe this, you Bob Dole really believe this is going to make a difference. That's the first thing you need. And the second thing you need is some way in which to protect them from the sort of political consequences like the tobacco tax if you are from North Carolina or whatever the case may be. And Bob has to sell that one person at a time, or he has to say, Dave, I'm counting on you to deliver Rudy, or Rudy I'm counting on you to deliver Dave. Or you know whatever his technique is that he's developed. And during the course of moving that budget resolution, we had a lot of stuff to overcome. 1981, we had said something about social security, and we should limit social security. 1982, the democrats ran against all of us, including me, on social security, so it was a tough tough political issue. I mean mostly the people knew that they were going to, somebody was going to try to do this to them. But the importance of the leadership, of a trustworthy person, in this case Robert J. Dole, and the significance of putting this huge issue behind us so that every single year we didn't have to come back and fight to do battle is what Bob Dole sold. And in the end he also sold it to one Democrat, Ed Zarinski, and he got Pete back from the hospital. He couldn't sell it to Ronald Reagan, because it had taxes in it, and he couldn't sell it Tip O'Neill because it had social security in it. And those two people failed the leadership test that Bob Dole had demonstrated on the floor.

FL: Could you talk some more about the art of the deal in a detailed way. The Dole style --it's been said he keeps meetings going on in five different rooms, he's the only person that knows all of them.


I think the first thing that we all need to understand is that in any given year there are a certain set of must-do issues. There is sort of a consensus when the year begins that this year you have to deal with telecommunications or you have to deal with health care reform as was a couple of years ago, or you have to deal with an agriculture bill because that's up for, or how are you going to deal with clean air, clean water act. There is a certain set of givens in the beginning of the year.

Bob Dole's ability of course is to know that issue inside out. I mean he doesn't know any of the technical details. But he kind of knows the three important issues and I remember in 1990 was the year in which George Bush did all of his legislation, clean air bill, which was very controversial, Americans with Disabilities Act, and I think it was another civil rights bill if I recall. Every one of those required somebody like Bob Dole to know where all the pressure points were. He didn't have to know the details of any of those bills, he just had to know who was on what side of which of these issues, and which of the issues were more important than others to the various people involved. And he just knows that, and he knows that from experience. I mean he's just a a smart man, he kind of knows us all. Tough guys, I mean a lot of the tough people are serving on the finance committee with all those taxes, trade and related issues, anyway, so you see a lot of that sort of thing and you kind of get to know somebody after a while, you know what makes them bend you know what makes them break, you know what makes them sit up straight and do what's right.

So Bob's talent is simply to know when to call the meeting and who to invite. When you have to have a few house members over because you ought to consider what the republican good is, or something like that, you'll find those guys sitting there. But he just has he has the timing talent, he knows who ought to be in the room, he knows how to deal with conflict, I mean you can't always have two sides in the room and not expect to see some sparks. You don't always get sparks, we're a very a collegial body and all love each other but, sometimes you're going to get sparks. And that's where the Dole humor or "somebody go get a cup of coffee for Dave he's getting hot, or get him a cold drink, he's heating up," but whatever it maybe. You know that sort of thing of course is when to end the meeting. Who to say, who in that group is going to be sort of like the person responsible for going off and sort of dealing with this someplace else, or whose staff, you know, are we going to have deal with this issue, and which one of my staff, Bob Doles's staff, is going to take care of this. You can do so many of these things at the staff level if you know exactly where the members are at. And then the White House, I mean when George Bush was President, I thought they were a particularly effective combination, because with John Sunnunu in the White House, there was never anysort of leaking behind George Bush. I mean they'd have their outs over there. And when we had the civil rights bill up or when we had the clean air, or something really controversial, Americans with Disabilities Act, there were untold hours that we sat in that middle room in Bob Dole's office in his ante room, in his personal office, you had that around that mahogany table. And Sunnunu is there, the Attorney General is there if that's necessary, or the secretary of either energy or EPA administrator or something like that, whoever has to be there is there. But in the Bush presidency, they always spoke with one voice, and John Sunnunu could cut their deals and that was it.

When we did the Clean Air Act, George Mitchel was of course the majority leader then, and George had a very unique process that Bob Dole acquiesced in to that and yet all the principles sat in his office for the better part of two and a half weeks. Including people from the administration, just to work out all of the basic differences. And then to get people to agree when they go out on to the floor, you know everybody stands, stands on those principles. So I mean just to summarize a Bob Dole consensus style, to say it's all about timing and it's all about his judgement of people, and it's all about his standing by his word if you stand by yours. And then in the end, there always has to be a common good that we appeal to, you gotta close the circle. And it's either going to be for the Republican party, or for the good of the President, in the case of the President, it's for the good of the country, whatever the case may be. But Bob Dole closes the circle and everybody takes the pledge so to speak. And off you go and you get your work done. And that's, you know, that's the leadership style or the dealmaking style as I would call it.

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation