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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 ideological stands.

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 worse.

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 threatened again.

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.