My first real connection with Dole was somewhat by accident and was not in person. When the community of Smolan finally switched from the old ring down pre dial system of telephone communication in 1976 (only three left after us in the entire country), I was asked as the local state legislator to take the first call. Local leaders had arranged for Senator Dole to make that call, and I have always wondered, when the decision was made, if his staff knew a Democrat would answer.
Probably what stood out most for me about Senator Dole was his commitment to not let partisanship get in the way of serving the people. I will always remember his comment many years ago, following a fall election that “now we have eighteen months to do the people’s business and then six months for election campaigning,” and he meant it and it was true. Today, campaigning for the next election starts the very next day, if not earlier.
One of his major legislative achievements and one I have used many times in class, was his working with very liberal Senator George McGovern to pass the Food Stamp program. It was a time when you looked for win-win compromises. Then McGovern got his food help for the poor and Dole got more demand for agricultural products, something that had to be put together to get the votes to pass.
On reflection, Dole was a model Senate Leader, particularly compared to Mitch McConnell. I can not believe Majority Leader Bob Dole would have done what McConnell did to stop President Obama from making a Supreme Court appointment or would have said publicly that he would do everything in his power to make Obama a one term President. He would not have refused to send over 400 bills to Senate Committees, sent over from the Pelosi House, even though many had strong public support and a few were very similar to bills introduced earlier by Republicans. That would not have been Senator Dole.
I went to Abilene when he was on his final tour of all 105 Kansas counties and had a really good visit (pictured below). The event took place at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, which of course bears significance as it relates to Senator Dole’s military service, and it’s also a facility I had the privilege to work with as Archivist of the United States—a position I was honored to hold, after being nominated by President Clinton and introduced to the U.S. Senate by Senator Dole.
The event at the Eisenhower Library was an opportunity to thank Senator Dole for his service in general, but also to thank him for all the hard work and successful leadership he had put into funding the WWII Memorial and more recently the Eisenhower Memorial, both important additions for public visitors to the Mall. But his respect for his fellow WWII Veterans by showing up at the WWII Memorial to greet fellow WWII veterans being flown in from all over the country to see that memorial may, in some way, to me, highlight and sum up his life of public service best. He was an extraordinary and committed servant to this nation, and we are in desperate need of more like him today.