Nav Bar
Nav Bar

FLN: Can you set the scene, describe the way Senators reacted to Dole?


Bob Dole was a member of the Finance Committee as all of the most powerful Senators arrange for themselves to be. The majority and the minority leader always make sure they are on the Finance Committee because that's where the money is and where all of the control of the legislation is.

And we would have Finance Committee meetings in the back room of the Finance Committee with 20 Senators sitting around a table to discuss the GAT or discuss health care, something like that. And you always knew that the power was with Dole. And so there was always a kind of breathless anticipation about what would Dole say? Where was he going to come out on this?

And whenever he did speak, often in half sentences, often in grunts, often within jokes, everyone was on the edge of their seats. You could see the younger Senators --who got the least favorite seats at the table farthest from Dole--the younger Senators nudging one another saying, 'What did he say? What was that?' There was a real, and correct, anticipation that whatever Bob Dole was going to say, was going to define this outcome, more profoundly, than anything else anyone in the room was going to say.

And this actually converts into one of the problems that Dole has as a campaigner. He was so accustomed to communicating his position in half sentences and in grunts and in jokes and asides, to Senators, that it is very difficult for him when he tries to talk to a general audience. To make it clear to them, the full dimensions about the way he feels about any particular problem. I mean I feel like I know the full dimensions about the way he thinks about problems, and I also know he is the least likely person to provide me those dimension verbally. He just was never required to. There was very much this sensation around those conference tables of Bob Dole as the Godfather. As the guy we were all just waiting to hear him say the word yes or no, and when he did, nothing else mattered. And he grew kind of accustomed to that. Understandably so. And it makes him less of a communicator externally to the rest of the population.

FL: And how fellow Senators ranked him....


Well, Bob Dole was the most admired Senator in the Senate by other Senators. Every other Senator wanted to be Bob Dole when they grew up. They probably somewhere inside knew that they weren't ever going to be that good at this particular kind of work. And so he got admiration across party lines in a way that I didn't see anyone else get, on that order, with, that number of people.

Liberal, Democratic Senators, really like Bob Dole as a person. Arch conservative Republican Senators who think Dole is a liberal, really like Bob Dole as a person. And a lot of it has to do with their gratitude for all of the thing Dole allowed them to get done. They all knew that Dole was going to be their guy standing there at the finish line determining their success or failure, and Dole made sure that everybody had a couple of successes in the course of the year, so that very few people around there, and there might be 10 or 15 Senators who don't like him, really actively don't like him. But that's that's an amazingly low number for that place.

FL: So few people that are close to Dole, much more so than most Senators, even given the fact that the Senate is a treacherous place and politics is a treacherous place...Can you talk more about that?


Politics is a life of temporary relationships. Friendships are very strangely defined within politics. Bob Packwood was as Senators go, a close friend of Bob Dole's. When Bob Packwood's Senatorial life came to a crisis and he faced being expelled, Bob Dole did not lift a finger in the end to try to save him from being expelled, and he could not lift a finger in the end to try to save him from being expelled.

There is in the air this understanding that you never know what's going to happen with anyone. And it's very very difficult to hold to the normal standards of friendship, therefore it's very difficult to build intimacy to get more and more friendly with other Senators. You're going to have disagreements with every Senator at some point. Serious disagreements. That will really kill the legislative hope that that particular Senator has for that particular year. So it's hard to have real working close friendships in what is so often an adversarial line of work with even the people who are on your side most of the time. You'll end up in an adversarial position with every single Senator there at some point.

So those relationships are difficult. They are also temporary because someone can be there for six years and gone because they lose an election. Then when you add to the fact that Dole has spent virtually every minute that the Senate has been out of session, on an airplane flying somewhere to raise money for other Senate candidates, to raise money for presidential campaigns, to campaign himself, it, you aren't even allowed the physical proximity of each other in leisure moments. Now what kind of friendship do you think can develop with someone who you will never see, at leisure, never, there is an extreme limit on this stuff.

But yah. Bob Dole is a somewhat more distant character than most Senators. But his human availability in one on one moments on the Senate floor that is genuinely intimate. I mean he used to ask me about my daughter and how she was doing in a more genuine, intimate way than almost anyone else there did. It was really quite striking to me. And he had no particular reason to bother with that, and he did. So to the extent that you could have a moment with him, that was unguarded, he was as unguarded and open and genuine as any Senator I knew.

FL: the environment of the Senate...can you talk a bit more on that?


Trust is the most dangerous investment that you can make as a politician. First of all, simply trusting someone with the truth with what you actually think about a policy, about Hillary Clinton, about Bob Dole, is an extremely dangerous thing. If you think something negative, that word can get around.

If you're an arch conservative Republican, and you happen to think something favorable about Hillary Clinton, you might not want that to get around. You end up in that world, I think at a kind of subconscious level, almost craving the ability to trust someone, but always recognizing that it is the single most dangerous thing you can do. And when you have the United States innate with 100 people enveloped in that kind of dynamic with trust, you know friendships are going to be kind of limited engagements there. It's a very unnatural condition.

I mean I would suggest that possibly the most important argument for term limits is simply almost for the psychological well being of the holders. How long can you do that? How long is the denial of the very simple human indulgence in something as necessary as trust, how long is that possible for someone.

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