Bob Dole still has much to teach today’s politicians about leadership and how to get things done in Washington, D.C. Sadly, some of the lessons should be obvious, including: “Compromise is not a bad word.”
The former Kansas senator, who will turn 90 in July, spoke with Eagle reporter Roy Wenzl about his long career in politics and what’s wrong with Washington and the Republican Party.
One of the biggest lessons Dole learned was that “hatchet” politics isn’t effective. It may score points with partisans, but it alienates everyone else and leads to gridlock.
So after being chosen as the Republican leader in the Senate, Dole focused on building relationships and working with Democratic lawmakers. Rather than just saying “no” to everything, Dole tried to offer an alternative – a “Plan B,” as he described it.
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That was how Dole was able to shepherd through landmark legislation such as the Americans With Disabilities Act and reforms that extended the solvency of Social Security.
Though politicians from both parties, including President Obama, need to do better at building relationships and compromising, Dole was most critical of his own party. He said that the GOP is losing ground because it is “moving further and further to the right, Kansas being a good example.” He said it needs to be “an inclusive party, not an exclusive party” and that the GOP needed “to broaden the base with Latinos and blacks and young people – almost every group.”
Dole also noted that many GOP lawmakers overreact to the loud, extreme voices that don’t want them to compromise, no matter what.
Shamefully, that was seen in December during the Senate debate on the United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled. Dole made a personal visit to the Senate floor to advocate for the treaty. But Republican lawmakers – including Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran – voted it down, spooked by unfounded fears pushed by some groups.
There have been a few glimmers of bipartisanship recently. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., drafted the bill to expand background checks on gun purchases, and a group of eight lawmakers developed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. But the Senate’s defeat last week of the background check bill – which Roberts and Moran voted against – and the bickering at Senate hearings this week on immigration reform show that these efforts still face long odds.
This nation faces too many major challenges to remain frozen by extreme partisanship and uncompromising ideologies. If we are to move forward, lawmakers and citizens need to be more like Bob Dole.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee