Bob Dole, Senate Legend Who Championed Compromise, Dies at 98

Bob Dole said his parents taught him to put his trust in God, not government, when he announced his candidacy for the White House in 1995. It was a logical thing to say, when he was running against a government-loving liberal like Bill Clinton; but it was also untrue from a man who devoted his life to making government work.

When Dole died on Sunday at the age of 98, America lost not just another war hero of the greatest generation or a champion of whole-grain American values or a persistent but unsuccessful presidential contender; it lost a legislator whose faith in the possibility of collaboration and compromise seems all too rare now.

He found compromise hard. Dole wanted it to be that way in his life. He used to say that he trusted in the hard way, a faith formed out of the sand of western Kansas, where anything that comes easy probably isn't worth having. He swallowed his pride as he and his family moved into the basement of his boyhood home during the Depression so that they could rent out the house above.

He came home from World War II and was shot up in so many places that he was reduced to a second infancy, learning how to walk, eat, and dress himself with clip-on. Is there faith in government? He had an image of America in which the government did not need to do what neighbors did for each other. Government was not the enemy for a man from a town where it meant jobs, farm price-support programs and rural electrification.

He fought for America, nearly died doing it, and America rebuilt him with years of treatment and surgeries, and rehabilitated him as well, but it was his doctor who told him to use his brain instead of his broken body. The doctor told him to stop thinking about what he has lost. You have to think about what you can do with it.

The injury made it easier to see. Dole became himself more and more. He fought his way from county attorney to Kansas congressman to Senate leader, stopping in front of every swaying porch lamp to beg for votes. Like the pineapple juice, Dole. His politics were deeply practical. His ideology was about patriotism and perseverance and making things work. He supported the Vietnam War and civil rights legislation. He was a fiscal conservative who fought against world hunger, and his first floor speech as a freshman Senator was a plea for funds for housing for the disabled. His sign off was a mix of optimism and hope, a slogan against despair. Don't give up.

He was a man who would offer help to anyone, but never ask for it; as Senate leader he guided the process with humor, logic, precision and compassion. If he deployed his dry humor as both a sword and shield, his colleagues would know no one worked harder to ease their lives. Dole liked to count votes and hold court in the cloakroom. None of the 20 Republican Senators Dole worked with could remember a time when he pressed them for votes or even muscled them into doing so.

He had friends and enemies, including the GOP hatchet man, Richard Nixon's water boy, and the Senator. He was the longest-serving Republican leader in the history of the Senate, but he was replaced by McConnell.

He ran for the presidential nomination of his party many times. Voters had just installed a generation of Republican reformers. He was cast as a pragmatist at a time when purity was most important, when the term had become an insult. He heard his fellow Republicans talk about everything from a flat tax to term limits for judges. The impression was that he didn't have any ideas at all.

He had procedures. He said to send the idea to the committee. Let's have hearings. He was speaking his first language. His instinct was always to reach across the aisle and find common ground. While they were bright and shiny, he was all about the outcome, and they were empty of opportunity.

He did not fake things well. He was not a fan of small talk. He didn't like to be touched and refused to be handled. He was proud of the skills he had learned. During his last presidential campaign, he said that if there is a complaint, it comes from people who don't understand leadership and the Senate. You are out there trying to get something done. Most Americans expect us to. The Senate needed an honest player like him in the years that followed.

Dole did not completely leave the political stage. Elizabeth Dole joined the Senate after the 2002 elections after unsuccessfully running for the White House in 2000. Dole was a strong advocate for the nation's veterans, especially those of the World War II generation. He would usually drive from his home at the Watergate to the memorial on Saturday mornings to greet the veterans.

He said during his last campaign that he wanted to win for the right reason. I want to win because the people of America have confidence in Bob Dole. They understood leadership. The values and virtues that he represented have not lost their power, even though the country's understanding of leadership has evolved since he staked his claim to it.

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