Nav Bar
Nav Bar

George Pyle, Editor, Salina Journal, Salina, Kansas. He earned notoriety in Kansas from Dole's statement that he thinks he's got most of the Kansas vote, "except that liberal editor from Salina."

Interviewed May 1, 1996

FL: David Owen , very briefly what happened.


David Owen was a very important man in the Kanas Republican Party. He was the man with the Midas touch. He raised money for everybody, very well. Sometimes maybe too well, according to some people who thought he did it in ways that weren't exactly kosher. Finally, after he got in trouble once too often, Bob Dole just cut him off and he didn't even have the guts to do so himself apparently. From what we've read, he sent his wife, Elizabeth, to tell Dave that their friendship was over and his usefulness to the Dole campaign was over and that was it. And Owen later went to jail on a charge that was not related to the Dole campaign, but probably a bigger wound to him than a year in Federal prison was the fact that his great and good friend, Bob Dole, whom he'd saved more than once, won't speak to him anymore.

FL: Does that raise questions for you?


Well, yeah it raised questions for me. I think a lot of people, people in Kansas who respect Bob Dole and have voted for him, and will always vote for him, still kind of feel that was not a good thing that he did. This man, Dave Owen, worked for him, did everything he asked, did some things that even Owen didn't want to do. Did it out of loyalty to his friend Bob Dole and when the going got rough and Owen became a liability, he was cut off. I think there are times when maybe leaders hang onto their friends too long and maybe suffer as a result. People need to, if you're going to be a leader, sometimes you're going to have to fire people. But there's a difference between separating someone from their official capacity when they're not doing their job right and stabbing an old friend in the back. And I think a lot of people feel that's what Bob Dole did to Dave Owen. Even people who support Bob Dole and feel that maybe for his own long term political survival he needed to separate himself. But maybe he didn't need to do it quite so cruelly.

FL: The Bill Roy campaign, what is that story....


This was Bob Dole's closest call. This was the closest Bob Dole ever came to political oblivion was the 1974 Senate race. He had been in Congress, he had one term in the Senate and now he was running for reelection. Kansas is a Republican state. Bob Dole is very popular. The idea that the would be in trouble was a surprise to people. But Bill Roy was a popular Congressman, moderate Democrat from Northeast Kansas, and this was right after Watergate, right after Nixon resigned and Bob Dole had been loyal to Nixon, maybe longer than he should have even people in Kansas would say. Right after Ford's pardon of Nixon, Democrats were coming on strong in a lot of places. It was the fight of Bob Dole's life. The race was very close. For a long time, Bill Roy was actually ahead in the polls. Which had never happened to Bob Dole before.

The campaign got very nasty. And to some people that was the turning point for Bob Dole when he came to the point of saying, "I will do anything I have to do to win." Most people, if they remember one thing from that campaign, they remember the debate. It was at the State Fair grounds. It's traditional in Kansas to have a debate during the State Fair which is always in early September. And it was Bob Dole, Bill Roy, one on one, Lincoln-Douglass style. I watched it on TV. A lot of people were there. It was broadcast live even though there was a K. State football game on at the same time, which shows you how interesting this race was. People were giving up the K. State football game to watch this. All anybody remembers of that debate is about the last three minutes where Bob Dole, who really felt that he was on the ropes, just walked up to the microphone and asked Bill Roy, who was an obstetrician by training, how many abortions had he done in his life. And Bill Roy was not prepared for that question, and he kind of stammered a little bit, and then the debate was over. And that was it. The show was over. TV plug was pulled. The crowd of Kansans, who had known Bob Dole for years, were offended by that. A lot of people were offended by that. That's the only time in his political career that Bob Dole's ever been booed off the stage in Kansas. Immediately afterwards, Roy's poll numbers went up. He was seen as a victim in that debate. Bob Dole was seen as having played dirty. But after that the poll numbers, Roy's numbers started to go down and Dole's numbers started to come back up. Dole ran a campaign spot that was a picture of Bob Dole being pelted with mud. Some people thought it wasn't mud, some people thought it was something a little more of a barnyard origin. And Bob Dole got whatever benefit you can get out of attacking Bill Roy for attacking him. Then he pulled the spots and got whatever benefit you can get from saying, "Oh, I'm above that sort of thing. I'm not going to do that anymore." Bill Roy wouldn't run negative spots, even though he was encouraged to by a lot of people and in the end, Bob Dole pulled it out. Two percentage points. Largely by pulling a lot of votes from the few Democratic areas in Kansas where there are a lot of Catholic voters who were concerned about the charges that Bill Roy was some kind of an abortion mill doctor, which he was not. He was an obstetrician. He had delivered thousands of babies. His only abortions that he had performed had been in cases where they were clearly therapeutic. But he didn't want to talk about it. Those were personal things. He didn't really defend himself from it very well and in the end Bob Dole pulled it out. And since then he's coasted to reelection every year without a significant scare.

Bob Dole, I think, has told people that that was the low point of his political career. That was the closest he came to seeing it end. Other people look at it and see it as the turning point where he completely went over to the dark side of the force and became the kind of nasty politician that he has a reputation for being.

FL: People close to him say that was a turning point for a somewhat new Bob Dole. Do you see that?


Well, I don't really see that much of a change. I think he's been consistent through the years. The fact that he's a very ambitious person, that he's seeking to move up the ladder in the same sense that you would move up the corporate ladder. And you go by whatever way is the current way in the organization to move up. When the way to move up the organization was to be loyal to Richard Nixon, he was loyal to Richard Nixon. Later when the way to move up was to separate yourself from that, he separated himself from it. People in Kansas knew what he was doing. They didn't really discredit him for it. I mean that's the way the game was played. But he's always been the one to move up the organization and further his own ambition in whatever is the way to do it at the time. After the Roy race, without any significant political opposition in Kansas, the reputation for nastiness sort of faded. Then he ran for Vice President with Gerald Ford and he became the hatchet man of that campaign and they started drawing him as looking like Nixon and carrying buckets of mud. After that was over it kind of faded again, until the night in New Hampshire when he said, "Tell George Bush to quit lying about my record." Well, George Bush was lying about Bob Dole's record. And again, that became the kind of point where every once in a while it's brought up to Bob Dole that politics is a dirty business and if you're going to survive in it you have to be kind of dirty yourself.

FL: Could you pursue that, evaluating Dole's career and how he started out as an underlying theme.


It seems to me that Bob Dole has been pursuing politics as a career in the sense that people pursue working for General Motors or Amoco as a career. You start out at a low level, you do what you're supposed to do, you schmooze the right people, you move up. Maybe you enter the corporate life with some great vision of the thing that you are going to accomplish. Something other than just making a lot of money. You're going to make the world's best car. You're going to cure cancer. You're going to do all kinds of things. In order to move up the organization, even as you hold that vision of what you're going to do, you have to fit in with the culture. After a while fitting in with the culture becomes the only thing you do. It's the only thing that's important. Your high moral dreams get pushed off further and further back. And it's true that if you're going to accomplish anything you have to hold some power, whether it's in the corporate world or in the political world. With Bob Dole, the disappointment is, I think for a lot of people in Kansas maybe sometimes unspoken, is that the getting along, the moving up, the corporate climbing, the political ambition, has crowded out everything else that might have been there. Any vision he might have had for a direction in which he would lead this country. There's some question as to whether he ever had it, but if he ever did have a vision other than Bob Dole's advancement up the structure, it's been very hard to see what it is.

FL: You've initiated this Dole watch. This particular part of his career that offends you. And you've also gotten famous for that Dole watch and famous as a seasoned and balanced, but nonetheless, Dole critic. And you've even gotten letters from Dole's sisters.....


In the spring of '95 I started an irregular series of editorials and I called it the Bob Dole "suck-up watch." It's a name I stole from The New Republican. But whereas they keeping track of nice things people were saying about people in power in order to get noticed, I turned it on it's head and started keeping track of the things that Bob Dole was saying in order to suck up, mostly to the right wing of the Republican party which was going to have a lot to say about who the Republican nominee was going to be. So he was going around speaking against Hollywood movies, he blocked the nomination of Henry Foster to be Surgeon General, things that I and most people in Kansas don't think he really cared about very much. These were just things that you had to say to win the endorsement, or at least not the opposition of the Christian Coalition and others to move up, to fulfill your goal.

So the suck up watch was an account of blocking Henry Foster's nomination, speaking out against Hollywood. Talking about how Hollywood ought to put principal ahead of profits when he certainly wouldn't say that about any other industry, that they ought to put principal ahead of profits. And I got up to like part 18 of the suck up watch, early in '96 before it finally kind of, before it kind of fizzled out after he cinched the nomination because after that there was less and less of a need for him to go out of his way to try and pretend to be a true believer in the right wing which he isn't. And which the true believers in the Christian Coalition have never accepted him as a true believer. They know better. They know what he's doing. But it's sad. It's sad for him to think that he needed to do that to move up. It's sad to think that he needed to trump up these issues and say things that I don't think he really believes or really cares about one way or another to achieve his goal.

FL: At the risk of psycho-babble, what sort of way back in his life would make him so risk adverse?


His family certainly had things taken away from it, and he certainly had things taken away from him. More so than any Kansas experiences, the Depression/Dust Bowl experiences of his family. They moved into their own basement and rented out the top floor so they could make some money. His father had opened a restaurant and it failed. He had plans of being an athlete and a doctor, both taken away from him by his war wounds. He had to struggle to come back to even do anything at all. He had his dreams taken from him. Literally, violently taken away from him at one point in his life. And he's not going to allow that to happen again. He feels that he's worked for this, he's earned it, he's paid his dues. He's done what he's supposed to do. He's done the heavy lifting. And he's entitled. And he's not going to do anything that will risk having that taken away from him. It is a characteristic that you will frequently see in Kansas Republican politicians who are secure, you would think, in their reelection for as long as they might want it and yet they still feel the need not to offend the far right, not offend in many cases such organizations as the NRA, as if those organizations can bring them down. They can't. They're secure. But they don't want to take the risk. They want the power. Sometimes for it's own sake. Sometimes for the good they want to do. But they want to hang on to it. And in Bob Dole's own life, he's lost big. He's lost things. Part of the reason that maybe the campaign against Bill Roy got so personal, some people theorize, is that Bill Roy was what Bob Dole had wanted to be. A successful doctor, well off financially, well respected. Bob Dole had wanted to be that. Couldn't after he came back from Italy. He wanted to be many things. Couldn't. His family wasn't rich enough to send him to the East Coast universities. He had to work his way through college. He started college, the war pulled him away. Then he had to go back. He was going to be an athlete. He was going to play basketball for Fogg Allen at K.U. I mean that's nirvana in Kansas. It was taken away from him. He's very sure that he's not going to have things taken from him again. But unfortunately in seeking that he may have given away the unquestioned ability he had probably to actually accomplish things and leave a legacy other then just served many years in a position of power.

FL: Include many other things besides Hollywood. There's a whole range of issues he doesn't seem to have commitment to.


I think he's concerned about keeping. He wants to keep the Republicans in a majority in the Senate so he can be the Majority leader. And now he wants to be President. In order to do these things he seems to feel that he needs to speak out against gun control to placate the NRA, he needs to speak out against abortion to placate the Christian Coalition, he needs to speak out against Hollywood movies despite the fact that he's a big recipient of money from Time Warner and various other people. He needs to do all kinds of things to make him look like somebody he isn't really. I don't know why he seems to need to do that but he does. The Henry Foster nomination. Normally he's a person who says the President is entitled to make whatever nominations he sees fit. He shot that down because it came at just the right point for him to score some points in the Republican nominating process. It's just the long series of things if he'd been another hack politician nobody would have noticed. But because he is a skilled and experienced and influential member of the Senate, you think he wouldn't have to do these things. And that's why it becomes a suck up and that's why it becomes so disappointing to people who might otherwise support him. I think to a lot of people in Kansas. I mean people in Kansas who voted for him over and over again were telling me, "Gee I wish he wouldn't act to partisan." "Gee I wish he wouldn't just be picking fights with Clinton just for the sake of it." "We sent him up there to do some good, and he's just picking these meaningless fights. Why is he doing that?" They ask me like I know. I don't know. I wish I did. I wish he wouldn't do it.

FL: If you look over the entire record in Congress, what are his great legislative victories or are there not many at all?


In terms of legislative accomplishments there are two that stand out. One of them is food stamps which is a way of getting assistance to people who need it that is more resistant to fraud than just simply handing them cash, and it was a deal he made with George McGovern, the most liberal of Senate Democrats, in that it served the poor and the needy population that George McGovern was particularly worried about and it served Bob Dole's constituency, Kansas farmers. Sell more food. The perfect deal. The deal, the political deal in the service of actually serving people, actually doing good things for people. He's very proud of it and I think he deserves to be. The other one is more recent. It's the Americans With Disabilities Act. Even though Bob Dole goes around say[ing], "There's too many government regulations and government is involved in our lives too much," the Americans With Disabilities Act is Bob Dole's creation. And it's because of what happened to him, he has a special empathy for people with disabilities and the barriers that society puts up to people who want to work. People with disabilities who just want to make their way in the world. They don't want welfare. They don't want a handout. They want a job. And through this Act requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities people can now work and make their own living. He stuck to that, he was proud of that. He deserves to be proud of that. Why there aren't more of those -- with the power he has, with the ability he has, with the smarts he has - that's the disappointment.

FL: Revealing emotion, not revealing emotion, style, prose. Describe the landscape and the fact that you're from Kansas.


I've lived in or very near Kansas all my life. It's a very harsh landscape. It's the weather, goes to great extremes. It's one of those places where for a lot of people you seem to feel that because it's so flat you don't want to be the one that stands up too tall because you'll get cut down. It's extremes of weather. Dreams have been killed here. Crops have been blown away. Towns have been destroyed in a night by a storm. You can be real disappointed dreaming big dreams in Kansas. It's said that the people who came through Kansas who were dreaming big dreams went on to California and Oregon. People who stayed in Kansas were the merchants, the bankers, the sod busters who were just after efficiency. They were just going to stay here and hunker down and get the job done. And I think there's a lot of that in Bob Dole's character and I think there's a lot of that in the Kansas character. There's a, this is a landscape without adjectives and so we don't use a lot of adjectives when we speak. Short sentences. Digs. Insults as humor. Insults as a way of expressing affection. It can really, you get in a situation where you don't really want to expose yourself. You don't want to leave yourself open to the weather or even to your relatives who will use it as a way to dig at you. It's, it can be [a] hard place to live. It can be a good place to be from, but it's killed a lot of dreams. And it can lead you to be the kind of person who will hold on to your dreams very jealously and very fiercely to make sure it's not taken away from you again.

FL: Could you talk a little more about the emptiness and the affect it might have.


Well, Kansas. The wide open spaces. Some people find it freeing. Some people find it liberating. Some people find it intimidating. There's no horizon. There's nothing to see. Some people can't wait to get away from it. Those who stay, I think, become comfortable with it. They deal with it. They're here, they cope. We're the kind of people, you ask us how we are, we say, "We're fine." I mean we could have just been run over by a truck but you ask us how we are and we say "We're fine." We don't want charity. We don't want a lot of help. But people will help you. Every year, every newspaper's got a story about the farmer who broke his leg at harvest time and all the neighbors came, brought their combines and harvested his wheat for him. They weren't asked. They just showed up. They were thanked. Maybe with a meal. And they all went back to what they were doing. It's just expected. Not a lot of emotion. Not a lot of crying and hugging and I was just thinking the other night, when you have Bill Clinton going around saying, "I feel your pain." In Kansas, we will give you money so that we don't have to feel your pain. So that you will go away and take care of yourself. We don't want to feel your pain. We may understand it, we may even empathize with it a little bit. But we don't want to feel it. We got enough of our own. Thank you. And more than the landscape when you're talking about Bob Dole. You're talking about the generational thing. You're talking about the Depression. You're talking about the Dust Bowl. You're talking about things that modern Kansans, people my age and younger, even can't identify with even if we've lived in Kansas all our lives. With communication we're all more connected to the rest of the country. Kansas is less different than it used to be because of modern communication and modern comforts. It's as simple as air conditioning. I mean it's not as harsh as it used to be. But people of Bob Dole's generation, life was hard. They don't see any other way of living. They don't expect life to be easy. They don't expect government to make it easy for them. It's hard and it's going to remain hard and you'll only survive if you're just as hard.

FL: What about Dole's humor? It's singular quality and how it's an expression of this Kansas culture.


Bob Dole's pretty much known for his sense of humor and it's often very cutting, very dry. Some people think it's mean. In Kansas sometimes, that's kind of a way that you express affection for people without being caught at it is to get in whatever dig that you can get in. And if you think of one on yourself, you say it before the other person can say it. A lot of Bob Dole's humor is very self deprecating. He, my favorite joke is the one after he and Elizabeth became well known as a power couple in Washington and People Magazine did a story about them and their Watergate apartment. And there was a picture of the two of them making the bed. And some old guy from Bob Dole's generation in Kansas wrote him a letter and he said, "I'm in trouble now at home. There's this picture of you helping Elizabeth make the bed. Now I'm expected to help make the bed at home." And Bob Dole wrote back and said, "The only reason Elizabeth was helping me make the bed was because the People photographer was there." And so that's the kind of joke on himself that Bob Dole tells all the time. You go to any coffee shop in Kansas and I don't know that this is unique to Kansas you'll see a lot of seventy year old people sitting around, drinking coffee, insulting each other. It's kind of the way they express their affection for each other. But you can't say "I love you man" in Kansas, you say, "Boy, that's an ugly truck!" Or, "Where did you get that tie?" Bob Dole has raised that to a higher level, but that's kind of the Kansas sense of humor is to just get in the next shot before somebody gets it in for you.

FL: Bob has said that working at that drugstore was really a way of honing skills for the Senate. Talk a little bit about what you could learn in a Kansas drug store about people and about life and sports and the weather and cut deals...


The drug store in Russell, there was only one, and everybody came through there at one time or another. And you had to serve everybody. And you had to deal with what everybody wanted. And if you were going to be successful, then you had to start remembering what everybody wanted. So they would sit down and you would put the cup of coffee, or the ice cream soda or whatever it is they always ordered in front of them. And to be successful, you remembered that. You didn't wait to be asked. And you were always ready with a joke. And that survives to some degree to this day. Although you don't see it at McDonalds, even in Kansas. But it's the idea that you're going to serve everybody, you're always going to be quick with the joke, you remember them, you call them by name. You remember what they want, you remember how they like it, put on a little show for them. Being a good soda jerk is a performance. So is being a good Senate Majority Leader, I guess. It's a lot of the same talent. It's, but it comes down to the thing of it's a talent but it doesn't really matter whether you're jerking sodas, or passing legislation, or selling cars. It's the same talent applied to whatever you're in. The disappointment sometimes is, that's all it is. Instead of any kind of grand accomplishment it's just selling sodas in a more expensive suit, in an older building.

The analogy that's often used for Bob Dole is that he's Darth Vader. And people don't realize how apt the analogy is in many ways. If you really see the films and you know the story you know that Darth Vader was once another person who was a good person and he was looking for ways to do good things so he would require more power, and more power and then after a while he turned to the Dark Side of the Force. The easy way to power, the way to hang on to power, the way to develop it, the way to not lose it. But soon, then you find out that instead of you controlling the power, the power controls you. And you can't give it up. You're trapped in it. So whereas the name Darth Vader has become this generic term for a bad person, I think it's more apt for Bob Dole than people realize. Some people think that the day he turned was the debate with Bill Roy. Other people think it was the night in New Hampshire when he said, "Tell George Bush to quit lying about my record." It was the point where he went from dealing with power and the dark side of power, but remaining on the outside of it, to embracing it and stepping into it and becoming a personification of the exercise of power.

FL: Could you talk about the money theme. The possibility of this implicit quid pro quo.


If Bob Dole does anything well, it's raise money. He's raised millions and millions of dollars for himself, for others, for his PAC's, for his Campaign America. And he will go anywhere, speak to anybody, to raise money. He's excellent at it. The question is, the people who are giving that money, what are they getting back for that? And Dole has never claimed that they're just giving him money out of the goodness of their heart. He understands, and he's been very honest about the fact that people expect something when they give him money. Whether it's just access or whether it's a specifically, narrowly drawn tax break to benefit the Gallo family, or the people who make ethanol, I don't think that Bob Dole sees anything wrong with that. Because he's in a culture where that is the rules. That is the way things are done. And anytime anybody criticizes him for it, he just, he feels that these people are incredibly naive, they don't understand the way the game is played. He doesn't feel that he's deprived anyone of anything by giving to the people who have given to him, and it's a recurrent theme. People give him money, he gives them a speech, he gives them access, he introduces a rider in a tax bill to their benefit, and he doesn't try to hide what he's doing, he doesn't try to deny what he's doing. I think he feels other people in the Senate are being hypocritical when they criticize him for it, because they do the same thing. Or he knows they would if they had his skill and his power. It's another example of just adapting yourself to the culture you find yourself in and playing it for all it's worth. Without any moral qualms about it whatsoever.

FL: Final accounts. In the book, "Buying the President," and in other watch groups, Clinton is even better at it.


Clinton and Dole are much more similar than people realize. The phrase "brothers under the skin" really applies. They're both very good at soliciting contributions from all manner of people who may or may not be the kind of person you would expect them to be allies with. At holding out the hint and sometimes delivering on the promise that these people will get something in return for their contribution. I mean sometimes it's no more than being able to sit at the head table with the important guy. Other times its legislation or rulings that favor them. It's not something that either one of them tries to deny that they're doing. It is the way the game is played. It is how you get ahead. And if you do have any desire to serve the people of America, it is what you have to do to get, and to stay, in power. I think it would be very easy once you get into power and you start playing these games, to rationalize to yourself, to be able to look yourself square in the eye in the mirror, and say, "This is the kind of stuff that I have to do, in order to stay in power, which I have to do in order to do anything good. And I'm not really hurting anybody and the people who are whining are just the people who want to do what I'm doing but can't. Go buy your own Senator. I'm playing the game the way it's supposed to be played." I don't think he sees anything wrong with it.

FL: You also talk about other similarities between them. Even the women they're married to.


Bill Clinton and Bob Dole have so much in common in so many ways. They have independent and powerful women that they're married to that have, or could have, their own careers. What's interesting I think, because of the careers they've chosen and the success they've had in their careers, are constantly moving around people who have a lot more money than they do. Business executives, corporate CEOs and such. And they go into a room where they're supposedly the most powerful person in the room, but they're also the poorest person in the room. Even the rich people start to feel sorry for them after a while. And that's where you get the friend who gives you advice on cattle futures or the person who let's you buy in to their television production investment at no risk. And you get this big payoff from it. They want to preserve their political friends in a style to which they would like to become accustomed so they can comfortably move in these circles, so they can hold their own. And they may not even be thinking about the fact that that leaves them beholden. That leaves the politician beholden to the corporate person who's set them up for this. Sometimes there's genuine sympathy for this small state governor or this small state senator who's fighting the good fight and not having any financial rewards for it. But then you start to move in those circles and you start to see that as normal life. Whereas there are people here in Kansas and down in Arkansas who would have loved to have gotten in on that cattle futures deal. And it's not because the Doles and the Clintons are less moral than anybody else, it's because the opportunity is before them when it's not before any of us.

What you tend to wonder about both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole is why? Why do they want this power? What do they want to do with it? Why are they bending over backwards and cutting deals and doing things that even they, so many years ago, would think they'd never do. What do they want out of it? I think both of them have at their core have some sense of morals, of things that they won't do and some sense of sympathy for people who aren't as well off as they are. Dole really is concerned about everybody from disabled Americans to besieged Bosnians. And I think Bill Clinton is sincere when he wants to stand up for whatever minority, whether it's gays that want to serve in the military or women who are seeking abortions, I think he really is concerned, but that's not their driving force. Their driving force is to move up the corporate ladder, to acquire and hold power, and sometimes when you ask them why, you get the feeling that they don't know why. That's just what people do. Anybody who's ambitious in whatever field they've chosen, success is judged by whether you move up. In the military, in some police departments, if you don't move up, you're pushed out. And that's kind of the thinking that dominates here. You move up. Even if you have to leave behind some of whatever idealism you may have started with.

[Re: cutting deals] Bob Dole when he works on something very seldom will he stand up and say, "I'm going to invent food stamps." "I'm going to end discrimination against the disabled." He works over a long period of time, counting votes, making deals, giving what he has to give to get what he can get. And as a result he has probably more successes that he can point to, not of the monumental scope, but he's able to tick off a laundry list of things that he's done, or things that he would have done if it weren't for those nasty Democrats who got in his way because he doesn't promise something way in advance of his ability to deliver it. That's a good Senate Majority Leader. Whether it would be a good President, I'm not sure. But it again goes back to the idea of the art of the deal and the process maybe being more important than whatever you are trying to get accomplished.

FL: The "art of the deal." What's involved in that kind of deal?


What Dole seems to excel at is just the encyclopedic mind of keeping track of what the other 99 Senators want, what they have to have, what they have to have to get elected, to get reelected, what they have to have to take back home to their people to show that they accomplished something. And he's able to keep track of that, give the Senators what they want, even Democratic senators. Give 'em what they want so he'll have their vote on what he wants. And I can see how this can become seductive. How to play this game and play this game and play this game better then anybody else. And he does play it as well or better than anybody else. You don't get to be the leader for as long as he's been the leader unless you can do this. People who stick to their own personal visions and fail to compromise and fail to scratch the other Senator's back don't rise to leadership positions. They remain mavericks, outside the mainstream, getting very little done. Maybe making a lot of sound bites but not actually accomplishing any legislation. And Bob Dole is able to do that. The concern is when it becomes, is he so enamored of the deal and the game, has it become such inside baseball, that for those of us out here in Kansas we go, "Well, what have you done for us lately?" And he's unable to articulate what he's done because we haven't been able to see the long process of getting it all worked out. I mean he's seen the cow made into the sausage and he thinks it's a pretty neat trick. And he has a right to think it's a pretty neat trick. We just see the end product and we're not quite so impressed.

Probably the funniest Bob Dole joke wasn't actually spoken by Bob Dole. It was spoken by Dan Ackroyd doing Bob Dole on "Saturday Night Live" during the 1988 campaign. They were all playing the various Republican candidates on supposedly some panel discussion and Ackroyd as Bob Dole had had it up to here with Pat Robertson and his holier than thou attitude and he said something to the effect of, "If you're in so good with God, why don't you heal my right arm." And the audience loved it. I think that was kind of cruel humor, either making fun of Dole's disability or picking on someone's religious belief. The audience went nuts. They loved it. And I have heard from, various people have claimed to be the one who showed Bob Dole the tape of that bit, and supposedly he loved it and his wife loved it and they all loved it. And people in Kansas, I thought, loved it. I loved it. I thought it was hilarious. Problem is, in real life Bob Dole didn't stand up to Pat Robertson that way. And I think everybody in Kansas, not everybody, but a lot of people would have been very proud of him if he did. Because people call me and say, "Bob Dole is sucking up to the religious right. That's nothing new. Kansas is the Bible Belt. Isn't Kansas dominated by the Pat Robertson types?" No it's not. Kansas conservatism is a live and let live, you live your life and I'll live mine and if you want to be weird, just don't do it in the street so I have to watch it kind of conservatism. It's just like in the old Westerns and the phrase is, "You do as you please. I'm going to do this." And old fashioned Kansas conservatism doesn't have a lot of room for the Pat Robertsons of the world, for the Christian Coalitions, for the people who want to impose their own moral order on anybody. Kansans just mostly want to be left alone and they will leave you alone in return. And that's Bob Dole.

Russell is a real place. It may become less so if Bob Dole becomes President and the media descends on it and the Presidential Library goes there. But now and in the past, Russell is a real town, with real people, ecking out a living as best they can without a lot of airs, without a lot of pretensions. And if there is a core to Bob Dole it comes from there. When he comes back to it he changes. People who have watched him, who have watched him in Washington, who have watched him on the campaign trail, then they follow him to Russell, and they look at other Kansans, and they say, "Who is this man and what have you done with Bob Dole? Who is this person standing here?" He carries that with him. He has a real affection for this town. And he knows very well what they did to help him when he was down and needed their help and they raised money for him to go through the horrible rehabilitation that he had to go through. They contributed their money. But they do it in a Kansas sort of way. You know, real low key. You pay for your lunch at the diner, you get some change, you throw it in the cigar box. They don't do big telethons and raise a lot of money. And you still see that in Kansas in convenience stores and cafes. There's frequently a little jar raising money for someone who needs a lung transplant, someone who needs a kidney transplant. And we still put money in them. And we still raise a lot of money that way. Now in this different media age they also bring in country music stars and do a concert, but it's the same kind of thing. We look out for each other. We stick up for each other.

It's like the Frank Capra movie, "It's a Wonderful Life", it's a little town where the people when the going gets tough will stick up for each other. Mostly they live their own lives. They don't bother you. You don't bother them. But they know who their neighbors are. And they care how their lives are and they're proud of them when they accomplish things. You know George Bailey never left. And even though he kept wanting to. Bob Dole did leave and to the extend that he may have gone down the wrong path, it's the separation from Russell, Kansas. So if anybody doesn't like Bob Dole, don't blame Russell. Blame Washington.

Somehow I seem to have developed the reputation as the little kid who points out that the emperor has no clothes. The Dole Suck Up Watch, the editorials, I endorsed his no-name opponent the last time he ran for reelection to the Senate. To some people it's a real telling of family secrets and you don't talk about those things. And his real family has managed to cancel their subscription to The Salina Journal more than once. They get tired of me pointing out where Bob Dole has not lived up to the expectations that I think the people who vote for him have. I don't speak to him directly. I'm in a position where I'm in my office mostly reading and writing. My reporters talk to him and he will send me messages through them as in, "Tell that Louis Lefty that I beat him again." Or he will bring a lot of money to something that's in Salina, or in our area and be very proud of the fact that he's brought a lot of money and he wonders how much money I've made for the people of Salina. Not very much. And he wants to make sure everybody understands that. So I don't think it's, some people talk about how he can get really mean. I don't think he's been really nasty about it. He's just giving as good as he gets. But yeah, I have kind of developed this reputation as being the Dole critic back home in Kansas. It's really very easy to do.

A long time ago many people, and Bob Dole was among those given credit for coming up with this, referred to the Hutchinson News as the "Prairie Pravda" because he thought it was rather too far left for something in the middle of Kansas. And in recent years as I've been writing the things I've been writing criticizing Bob Dole and George Bush and Ronald Reagan before him, I was kind of hoping that maybe The Salina Journal could get the title of the "Prairie Pravda" but I asked him that through a reporter and the reporter brought the message back that, "No, the Hutchinson News will always be the Prairie Pravda you're just this Louis Lefty rag from down the interstate." He's apprising me of what I want. That's the way he wins this argument.

FL: Could we go back --the art of the deal. What do you need to do to be really good at it as he is?


One thing that he's honed to a fine art, as he pursues the art of the deal in Congress, is that he will get something, and appropriation for something specific in Kansas. A program at Kansas State University, something for Fort Riley, something for McConnell Air Force Base. Instead of going through the long legislative process, he will wait until an appropriations bill is in a conference committee to resolve differences between the Senate and the House and there you can start all over again, you can add anything you want. So if he's on the conference committee he will do it himself, if he's not he'll call whatever ranking Republican is on the committee and he'll say, "Oh by the way. How about $700,000 as defense peace dividend money for this aviation program in Salina, Kansas. It would really help me out." So they put it on there. No legislative hearing. No attempt to justify to the Senators from Maryland and Washington and Florida that Federal tax money ought to be spent on this program in Salina. It comes out. You can't amend a conference committee report, it's voted up or down. And so he's, through just making a phone call, he's made somebody in Kansas a lot of money. Now, these aren't the kind of things like really weird experiments for tracking the sex life of snails, these are things that build buildings and buy airplanes and things like that. It doesn't go through the legislative process...

Congress is a whole different thing than the White House so I'm not sure how his talents will translate to the Executive Branch. He's never been in the Executive Branch. In Congress over the long haul you have to be patient. You have to be able to count votes. You have to be able to give as well as to get or you're not going to get anywhere. Bob Dole does that very well. He counts votes, he makes deals, he waits to bring things to the floor until he thinks he can win. He isn't interested in a lot of filibusters and such things. Even when he's trying to suck up to the far right, they don't always believe that he's one of them because if he knows he hasn't got the votes, he doesn't bring it up for a vote. He waits until he knows what's happening. He doesn't ask the question unless he already knows the answer. This is the kind of thing that can consume you. Counting these votes, scratching these backs, thinking this Senator needs this to stand up to the charge that he's soft on the environment, so we'll give him this. This Senator is in a tough primary fight so we'll give him that. And he knows all this stuff, and he sucks it all up, and he keeps it in his mind. It goes back to the drug store in Russell. Knowing what everybody wants. Calling them by their name. Helping them out. Remembering what they said the last time they were here so you can throw it right back at them. It's a talent. It's a skill. It's a valuable skill in any walk of life. In any business. The reason I can't make it in politics is cause I can't remember people's names when I see them from one time to the next. He never met a stranger. Although I also talked to people who think he goes down a line, and shakes a lot of hands, he just starting to shake your hand and he's already talking to the next person in line. Cause he's so eager to get everything done. It's something that can consume you and it's something whereas the game becomes everything.

And the worry of those of us who have observed and criticized Bob Dole's career over the years is that the deal, the game has become everything. With a few notable exceptions, the Americans With Disabilities Act, Food Stamps, his pressure to stand up for Bosnia, it's been everything. And he would act precisely the same way whether the issue was endangered species or aid to the Contras or declaring some building in San Diego a national monument. It didn't seem to make any difference. And you start to wonder what's he doing with all the power and what's he doing with all that skill. He's making deals. Are they the right deals? Are they the deals we want? Would he even know if he tripped on one?

FL: Nixon. What do you think he saw in Nixon?


I think with Richard Nixon, Dole in a lot of ways saw a kindred spirit in the sense that they were both from poor families in small towns that had come up a long way. Who worked their way through school, had labored in the vineyards for the Party, had done the little jobs that nobody wants to do and been rewarded and rewarded for their hard work. They probably always felt that the East Coast establishment, liberal or otherwise, media, the Harvard and Yale graduates, those people - they probably always felt that those people looked down on them. That they didn't respect them cause they hadn't been to the prestigious universities. Their accent was strange, they didn't dress well enough. So they probably had this shared feeling of inferiority among the East Coast establishment. Bob Dole stuck up for Richard Nixon's past when even people in Kansas thought he ought to be sticking up for Richard Nixon. And part of it was probably political expediency and probably it was genuinely felt. That these two people had come up together, they'd worked together, they'd been loyal to each other and he was going to continue being loyal. He accepted the Chairmanship of the Republican National Committee at a time when it might have been suicide for a lesser politician and it was very damaging to Bob Dole for a while. But his President called and he took the job. You wonder what Bob Dole has learned from Richard Nixon and it might be that you fear what Bob Dole may have learned from Richard Nixon. I think that some of the meanness that we see in Bob Dole is something that he might have learned from Richard Nixon. More so than he brought with him from Kansas. The idea that you better get them before they get you, I think is a legacy of Richard Nixon that sometimes shows up in Bob Dole. If Bob Dole is elected President, I don't think you'll see an enemies list. I don't think you'll see challenging people's broadcast licenses because they give you the kind of coverage, the way Richard Nixon did. I don't think you'll see that in a Bob Dole administration. But I do think there's a bit of the residual feeling that "They're out to get me cause I'm not one of them, so maybe I better get them first."

FL: The lessons of practicality.


I can't think too much beyond that. Certainly part of Nixon's problem is that he didn't cut a few people loose soon enough and he suffered for it later and that may be why we now see Bob Dole having cut loose Dave Owen, having turned his back on people when they get in trouble in his service. He will say, "They may have a problem, but it's not my problem." He may have learned that from maybe Richard Nixon's failing to do that as soon as he should have with the plumbers and various other people. But I think he sees where Nixon failed and I think he's able to draw from that, that Nixon's fabled total inability to do such things as make small talk and compromise in areas where he should have compromised, those are not Bob Dole failings and I think he saw where Richard Nixon just was so paranoid, and so fearful of just meeting people in some cases, that's not a problem that Bob Dole has. And I think if anything he may have learned from Richard Nixon not only what to do, but what not to do. There supposedly was a memo written by Richard Nixon to Robert Dole about how to win the Republican nomination. Bob Dole says that he's never seen that memo and that maybe he would like to see it cause there might be something useful in it. But what's been reported about the memo is run to the right during the primaries, pick up the endorsement of the Christian Coalition and that element of the party. Then as soon as you have the nomination sewn up, scamper back to the center for the general election. And whether Bob Dole is deliberately trying to do that, whether he's actually following that memo from his ex-mentor, that's exactly what he has done. He has run to the far right in the primaries, winning in South Carolina saved him after he lost New Hampshire. He did that with the backing of the Christian Coalition. And running to the right. And he knew he was going to have to do that. And he tied up the nomination so early that even part of The Salina Journal's Bob Dole Suck Up Watch was the chronicling of him moving back of the center just as soon as it was apparent that he had no longer any real rivals for the nomination any more. It's kind of like watching a track in the snow. Obvious turn to the right, obvious turn to the left. All with this kind of wink to his core supporters, the people in Kansas, that you know and I know and we all know that this is just what you have to do to get elected. So why is anybody upset about it?

FL: Again, the similarities between Clinton and Dole....


There's this great Tom Tolls cartoon. It's Bill Clinton and Bob Dole sitting on a see-saw. A playground teeter-totter. And they're sitting in the middle, not on the either end. They're face to face and each of them is saying to the other, "Extremist!" It's a perfect illustration of the fact that they're just not that far apart. There are some issues that separate them, abortion probably being the most obvious, but they're really very similar in many ways. They're career politicians. Very pragmatic. There is a little core of values that they both have but it doesn't always show in their desire to gain and hold power, and make deals and win successes in the legislature. In the legislative process. Neither one of them is going out on a limb for anybody. They stay in the middle where it's safe and only venture out to the left, to the right just as it's necessary to pick up some votes and pick up some support. Kind of scary really. It's almost surreal how similar they are in so many ways. The differences between them are largely generational, rather than ideological. And the thing that strikes me about the difference between the generations. Bob Dole had the "Good War". He fought in World War II, severely wounded, fought his way back. Bill Clinton avoided, some would say dodged, the draft in the Vietnam war. But it was a different war, it was a different society. Everybody went to serve in World War II. Bob Dole didn't want to. He wanted to play basketball at K.U. And I can't believe for a minute that if Bob Dole was a member of Bill Clinton's generation, and the war he was faced with going to was the Vietnam war, that he would not have pulled every string and flipped every switch to get out of avoiding it. The difference is, Bob Dole would have done it better and left fewer finger prints on that process than Bill Clinton did.

FL: Could you summarize again the shaping influences on Dole.


Bob Dole is a very complex person. Many things have shaped his life. Childhood in Russell. Poor childhood. The extremes of the Kansas weather. The harshness of the economy at that time. The Depression. The Dust Bowl. I mean people literally died, choked to death from the Dust Bowl. He saw that. Dreams of going to college because of his athletic prowess taken away from him by the war. Fighting back after wounds almost killed him, with the financial and moral support of his small community. Success in politics without a lot of things to really point to in having changed the world. It's a very complex character, a very complex individual. And to sit here and predict what kind of President he might be is very difficult. I don't know that I'm willing to risk it.

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