In the 1996 presidential election when Bill Clinton was seeking re-election against Republican Senator Robert Dole, I crossed party lines to cast my inconsequential vote for the Kansas senator. Clinton was highly favored. He also disgraced the Office of President through his sexual escapades with Monica Lewinsky, an intern.
I chose the prudent, not the prurient course. Though armed with a sardonic wit, Dole epitomized honor and integrity. He was everything the sitting president was not. He suffered crippling wounds during the assault on Anzio in Italy at the end of World War II. Clinton cleverly avoided service during the Vietnam War.
Clinton was slick and selfish. Dole was blunt and patriotic.
I could not support Clinton. I am still unenthusiastic about him. His behavior tainted the presidency.
After I read numerous articles about Dole following his death on Dec. 5 at the age of 98 and listened to eulogies during his funeral service on Dec. 10 at the National Cathedral, an Episcopal landmark in Washington, D.C., I realized my throwaway vote in 1996 was right. I voted for probity.
Dole’s political opponents, paying due attention to his toughness and undoubted Republican perspective, spoke sincerely about his willingness to compromise and his humanity. He valued friendship and extended it to all his colleagues regardless of their political views.
Former Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle talked about his first and last days as a U.S. Senator when Dole welcomed him, as well as offered him a job in his law firm when Daschle had lost re-election. Such genuine friendship would be hard to imagine in today’s ultra-partisan environment in our nasty nation’s capital.
President Joe Biden too acknowledged Bob Dole’s ability to reach political consensus in legislative battles. Dole thought first about the country’s needs, not political advantage that would translate to campaign funds and elective leverage. Dole was a pragmatist who preferred achievement over a stalemate that might please the obstructionist base but do nothing to serve the general good.
Biden told a story about a bill to fund Amtrak. The Delaware senator would commute daily to and from Washington. To promote the bill’s passage, Dole dryly suggested that it was necessary to ensure that Biden went home every day and caused no more harm in Congress—until the next day.
In recent years when President George H.W. Bush, Senator John McCain and General Colin Powell died, the words spoken by national leaders and written by pundits seemed eerily similar. These men bespoke integrity, honesty, character, and humor. They treated others with respect. They loved their country. Though political and military gladiators, they were willing to seek compromise and comity.
Justifiable criticism of current policy leaders may be muted during somber funeral services. But it hovers over the proceedings like an ominous cloud. Spoken and written eulogies portray the deceased as honorable, decent individuals whose attributes are shared by very few in today’s political arena.
When I listen and watch these services, enveloped in the majestic, rarefied splendor of the National Cathedral, I feel sad for our nation.
Are there any Bob Dole’s roaming the corridors of power, willing to compromise and avoid destructive stalemates?
Was President Bush a rarity in his gentlemanly treatment of others?
Was John McCain’s inner and physical strength something that few of us could have summoned under similarly severely punitive conditions in a North Vietnamese prison?
Was Colin Powell, a superb military leader and equally first-rate statesman, an anomaly as a selfless public servant?
A tactical master of the U.S. Senate like Dole, Sen. Mitch McConnell sorely lacks the Kansas senator’s affinity for compromise and consideration. McConnell simply wants to achieve and retain power. If he has a sense of humor, he hides it well.
Funerals for statesmen like Bush, McCain, Powell and Dole provide a respite from rancor. But only very briefly. A sense of shared grief for the deceased and our desperately stricken nation is illusory. The nation’s Capital bears little resemblance to the soothing ambience of the National Cathedral.
My vote in 1996 for Sen. Bob Dole was one in recognition of character and honor in a person gravely wounded during World War II. The eulogies for Dole confirmed my decision. They also illustrated a loss of civility in our fractious country.
Despite the odds, we can only hope for a better America. Bob Dole’s legacy of patriotism and pragmatism provide a guiding light. If we open our eyes, minds and hearts.
It seems appropriate to conclude, as in a common refrain during the Great Litany of prayers in an Episcopal service, “Have mercy upon us.”
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.