Former Kansas Senator Bob Dole was honored a couple
of weeks ago with the Congressional Gold Medal, a ceremony
that presented a chilling contrast – a wizened and
renowned leader evincing an institution he once led with a
keen pride, against a Senate now divergent and shriveled,
On stage was Dole, a Senate leader for more than 20
years, once one of the most powerful men in government.
Even at age 94, gaunt and frail and wheelchair-bound,
Dole carried a radiant history, of an era when Congress
was an institution of accomplishment, of magnificent
Now not so much, if at all. The institution that awarded
Dole the medal, its highest civilian honor, has withered
nearly to inconsequence. In Dole’s time and before, the
Congress was to affect the agenda of the majority party,
at times to compromise with the minority, and to seek
accommodation and transformation in a divided country.
That capacity is now a tarnished heirloom with Dole
presenting it only through history’s mists. The current
Congress, like a crowd of delinquent youngsters at a
parade, is left to scoff at Dole’s history, those old bands
that marched in cadence and fashioned glorious music at
the same time.
“Kansas sent us to Washington to do a job, not call
each other names,” Dole said a year and a half ago at a
forum in Lawrence. It was one of the last times he spoke
at length in public. An overflow crowd had come to the
Dole Institute at Kansas University to hear from him and
another former senator, Nancy Kassebaum. They were of
the prior generations, legislators who took seriously the
complexities of democracy and discipline, when public
service involved far more than a primal, venal urge to
Dole’s record is long, from the 1950s as a county
(Russell) attorney and state legislator, eight years in the
U.S. House and after that the Senate from 1969-96. He
was the chamber’s Republican leader for more than 20
years, and was twice majority leader (1985-87 and 1995-
96). He left the Senate in 1996 to become the Republican
nominee for president.
Dole’s appeal to citizens and legislators and his commitment
to service stretched over the nation and much of
the globe. For the same reasons he appealed to Kansans he
appealed to others. We had to share him.
His mission, as he saw it, was to improve lives rather
than to control or dominate them, to put public interest
above self preservation. There were differences, conflicts,
and just as we’d had enough of the man’s acidity and were
about to cut him loose he would pull back and sling out
the humor or manage something brilliant across the Senate
aisle. Even his adversaries remained confident of his
character and his judgment, if his politics didn’t always
coincide with theirs.
Such a profile is almost unheard of today, one that
defied convention for a common good, one that saw conservative
Bob Dole and liberal George McGovern joining
to work for food stamps; or Kassebaum and Ted Kennedy
on labor reforms; Kennedy and Dole for the Americans
with Disabilities Act, and for the Martin Luther King holiday.
These profiles and more gave our nation lift, helped
citizens and communities to have better lives. The profiles
today, as the Congress lurches along in fits and spasms,
are of the weakest kind, reticent, elusive and shadowy,
To be sure, Dole could be ruthless, even savage. During
the 1976 presidential campaign, incumbent Gerald Ford
took the high road and left the role of attack dog to Dole,
caricatured as a Doberman, a candidate also known
as the “Merchant of Venom.” His comments about all
the “Democrat wars…” and “abortion doctors…” hardly
softened the image. There were other dark moments,
his service as GOP national chairman at the time of the
Watergate break-in, or his two failed campaigns, in 1980
and ‘88, for the party’s nomination for president.
But through all his years of campaigning on the streets
or in the Senate, Bob Dole never failed to hone his knack
for wit to a fine edge. During one long meeting years ago
in Hutchinson, he sprinkled several zingers over the discussions.
– Dole said Ted Kennedy would be the Democratic candidate
for president. “I nominated him a couple of weeks
ago,” Dole said. “So far he hasn’t declined. Even his staff
– “I didn’t start hacking away during the 1976 presidential
election entirely on my own. I did have some direction.
Gerald Ford favored the Rose Garden campaign; I
got what was left – the briar patch.”
– “When people remind others that I was GOP national
chairman during the Watergate years, I also remind them
I was forced out of office by the White House. President
Nixon invited me to Camp David to commend me for my
service as chairman. He gave me a Camp David jacket
and a noose.”
– “In my campaign for the GOP nomination for president,
many have asked about Howard Baker, and my
chances against him. I continue to emphasize my record,
my ability, my experience, the proof that I can get the job
done … and that I am six inches taller than he is.”
– “Do we really need more bureaucracy in the form of
energy agencies? Consider the proposed Energy Security
Corporation, to run independent of the government. That’s
like asking people to buy gasoline at the Post Office.”
– “One of Ronald Reagan’s detractions as a candidate
is his age. He’ll be 69 on the eve of the New Hampshire
primary in February. We’re considering sponsoring a big
elaborate birthday with lots of publicity – and lots of
And so forth.
It was always a wonder how any candidate or office
holder could keep a sense of humor in what has become
such a humorless profession. The shame is that Dole’s
legacy of collaboration, even with its dark side, has no
We could build, but not a wall
Remember the summer of 2014? By the end of July
the count was at least 57,000 for the number of unaccompanied
children from Central America who crossed the
border into the United States.
There was great posturing, foaming and fear-mongering
from dimwit politicians about these youngsters as dope
runners, or terrorists, or spies, or fraudulent voters. They
left Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, or some other venomous
hell hole, because being there was more a matter of
dying than living. They came terrified and alone, moved
only by a thin reed of hope that they could escape the murder
and misery that poisoned life in their homeland.
There were great pronouncements about sending them
back. Denial, the Republicans said, would show Central
American leaders that America is no free lunch for
vagrants, no matter how young they are.
President Obama wanted to persuade Central American
leaders that the humanitarian crisis was incubated deeply
in their own land, and that its terrors must be exposed and
eradicated. Poverty, drugs, corruption, and murder are
among the components of misery that comprised life’s
litany for our neighbors to the south. In the 3ó years since,
the sorrow and suffering have only escalated.
We can help, but not by building a border wall. We can
build something else, in Mexico or in Central America.
Anything. It doesn’t matter. A building. A highway. A port.
Farms or ranches. Bridges. Whatever we build, make it big.
It should mean jobs in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala
or Mexico or wherever. The United States would provide
the resources to put up something that would take years to
build, including the roads to it. The cost would be a pittance
compared to the blood and billions we have poured
down the rat holes of drug wars, border fences and beating
the desert sage to roust tired, hopeless immigrants.
When the first project is finished, start another. And
so forth, until the building and maintaining and ancillary
supply-and-demand sprout and self-perpetuate.
People leave a place because there is no reason to
remain. We could give them one, or several. We could
help them want to stay there, rather than wasting more
billions to make them unwelcome here.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL