Bob Dole, one the greatest senators of 20th century, passed away Sunday at the age of 98. Dole’s unsuccessful campaigns for vice president in 1976 and president in 1988, 1996 and 1996 are what most people remember. Bill Clinton won the nomination. These efforts did not show Dole at his finest. His main contributions to the Senate were as chairman of its finance committee, then as the Senate’s Republican Leader. He also served two terms as majority leader. Dole believed in governing and should be remembered that way. However, Dole was also very partisan. This can be viewed in a number of ways. You can make a very negative interpretation of this, with Dole encouraging the vicious partisanship which took control after his departure from office in 1996. You can also look at Dole as an architect of rejectionionism. In 1993 and 1994, Republicans used the filibuster against the Democrats instead of working constructively to make the best deals for the minority. Dole was a hard worker throughout his career. If you want to see the root causes of the current Republican Party’s problems, Dole can be seen as the architect of rejectionism. In 1993 and 1994, Republicans used the filibuster to defeat the Democrats. But I believe Dole’s political career shows that he represented a healthier path than partisan polarization could have taken. Dole is historically significant because he was a strong partisan and he didn’t automatically oppose working with Democrats. The Americans with Disabilities Act was his great legislative achievement. It was a bipartisan effort in a divided government. Even under Clinton’s presidency, when he was trying to find new ways to use the filibuster against the Democrats’ agenda, Dole was willing to compromise and work with the Senate to ratify NAFTA. Dole served as the Senate finance chairman under Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He was also a key leader for tax cuts in 1981 and raising taxes in 1982 when he and other responsible Republicans believed it was the best policy. Dole was not the Speaker of the House Newt Geingrich who was responsible for shutting down the government twice, in 1995 and 1996. Dole didn’t stop it but he did act to make a deal. Bush. Bush considered campaigning and government to be two distinct spheres. Dole was more likely to make a cutting comment, but I never got the impression that he thought campaigning and government were unrelated. Maybe that is why he didn’t agree to a no tax pledge in the 1988 nomination race. Bush campaigned on “no more taxes”, but he viewed that pledge as something he had said to win his election, and not something that he felt was particularly restrictive once he was in office. Although Bush took governing seriously I don’t think he understood representation. Dole was, in my opinion, a deeply democratic politician who worked hard to both govern and build a strong representational relationship with his constituents. Here he is, after his loss on David Letterman’s 1996 show. The best way to learn about Bob Dole is to read the chapters in Richard Ben Cramer’s amazing portrayal of six leading 1988 presidential candidates, “What it Takes: The Way to the White House”. You don’t want to miss the chapters about Bush and, for that matter about Joe Biden. The Dole sections are the real heart of the book. Dole worked with many impressive senators, both from the Republican and Democratic parties. He was a conservative and extremely partisan from the beginning, which is what set him apart from others like Jacob Javits, Richard Lugar, or Howard Baker. He was serious about governing, and he did it well, just like Baker and Lugar. He knew that elected officials had a responsibility for their constituents and to try to solve the nation’s problems. He also demonstrated, along with Nancy Pelosi and Tip O’Neill, that strong partisanship can be coexisted with negotiation and deal-making. This makes Bob Dole, to me, the model that Republicans should have followed and a hero for the republic.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist who covers politics and policy. He was a professor of political science at DePauw University in Austin and at the University of Texas at San Antonio.