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An interview with Bob Dole

Published: Thursday, December 4, 2008

Updated: Thursday, December 4, 2008 07:12



Bob Dole is one of the most prominent Republicans of the past half-century. Representing Kansas, Dole was a member of the House of Representatives (1961-1969) and the Senate (1969-1996). During his time in the Senate, he served as both the minority and majority leader. In addition, he was the vice presidential nominee on the losing ticket with Gerald Ford in 1976. Two decades later, he was the Republican nominee for president and was defeated by then-incumbent Bill Clinton. His wife Elizabeth is a senator representing North Carolina, but she lost her reelection bid last month to Democratic challenger Kay Hagan. Dole is currently retired, although he works part-time for a law firm and is still engaged in political consulting.

Michael Bendetson: Over the course of your long career, which pieces of legislation are you most proud of writing and sponsoring?

Bob Dole: Well, there are a lot of pieces of [legislation] that I am proud of. However, the two that I am most proud of are the 1983 Social Security Amendment and the American[s] [with] Disabilities Act. These things made a major difference in many people's lives. I would also have to add the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday bill, even though few people remember it.

MB: In his book "What's The Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," which was first published in 2004, Thomas Frank argues that social issues are the sole reason that the people of Kansas support Republicans. He adds that on most other issues, such as taxes and health care, people in the state are quite liberal. He cites the fact that Democratic Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius managed to win an easy election because of her liberal stance on all issues except those relating to cultural or social concerns. As a resident of the state for over 80 years and a former public servant for the state, what is your opinion regarding your state's political leanings?

BD: I have to disagree with the author because I think she is a big liberal Democrat. I consider myself, and the people of Kansas, mainstream Republicans. I think [the people of Kansas] like lower taxes and lower spending, in addition to having strong social values.

MB: Earlier in the year, you wrote a letter to Rush Limbaugh defending John McCain's conservative values. In response, Mitt Romney added, "Well, it's probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me. I think there are a lot of folks that tend to think that maybe John McCain's race is a bit like Bob Dole's race — that it's the guy who's the next in line; he's the inevitable choice and we'll give it to him, and then it won't work. I think that the right course for a winning campaign against someone like Barack Obama is going to have to be somebody who can speak with energy and passion about the future of America, not another senator who can say, ‘Well, here's what I did on bill H. 1234. Here's what I did on my committee assignment.'" Unfortunately, do you think Romney was right in this belief?

BD: No. You can go back in any campaign and it's always, "If you win, you are a genius, and if you lose, [you] are an idiot." For Democrats and Republicans, [the above] is true. In addition, I thought Gov. Romney was more qualified than McCain. I was not defending John McCain. In fact, I said in that letter that I disagreed with John McCain on a number of issues. Romney did call to apologize and admitted that he had not fully read what I wrote.

MB: In the 2008 election, the Republican Party received devastating losses in the White House and in Congress. What steps and actions do you feel the GOP needs to take in order to return to power?

BD: The Republicans need to wake up and get some ideas. I do not want to say the far right dominates, but they have too much influence. The party needs new ideas on the economy and national security, innovations that will appeal to the American people.

MB: For so long, the Republican Party has been the party of anti-government leanings with regards to the economy. From Reagan's "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem" to Bush's almost laissez-faire approach to the economy, the Republicans have advocated very limited government intervention. Now that such massive government intervention is needed to save the U.S. economy, do you feel that the Republicans are suffering from an identity crisis?

BD: I think we have to be very careful. I am not so sure the federal bailout has worked yet. People are not able to borrow money and they are losing their homes. However, it is your generation we need to worry about, for you and your peers are going to have pay this massive bill.

MB: The Republican Party has struggled with regards to obtaining the votes of minorities, especially those of African Americans and Hispanics. What actions do you recommend to make the conservative platform appealing to these groups?

BD: When I was party chairman of the Republican National Committee, we made strong recruiting efforts towards African Americans. We need to continue to do so and recruit amongst Latinos. We need to open up the party to more people. We cannot say, "If you do not believe in this, you cannot be a Republican." For example, we cannot tell people that they cannot be a Republican if they are pro-choice. We are an open party and this is a big country; if we do not change, we will continue to lose.

MB: In this past election, the majority of independents supported Barack Obama. As a man who was widely considered to be a moderate Republican, do you feel that the current Republican Party has moved too far to the right?

BD: I am not so sure that it has moved. I am a mainstream Republican. I feel that you can still be a Republican and not agree with the party on every issue. No one group should dominate our party as organized labor dominates the Democratic Party. For example, now [labor leaders and Democrats] want to take away the secret ballot from workers. The Democrats have faults with their party and we have faults with ours. However, there is a group of former leaders – Sen. [Tom] Daschle, Sen. [Zell] Miller, Sen. [Howard] Baker and myself — who are Democrats and Republicans. We are trying to bring about stability and more progress on issues in a bipartisan manner.

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