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Senator Bob Dole’s legacy – putting nation over politics – Herb Weiss

By Herb Weiss, contributing writer

Politician, War Hero, Senator Bob Dole Dies at 98

Bob Dole a seriously wounded World War II hero, a Kansas politician who served in the House from 1961 to 1969 and the U.S. Senate from 1969 until 1996, who unsuccessfully ran as the Republican candidate against Bill Clinton for President in 1996, dies at age 98, after a long illness.  

According to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Senator Robert J. Dole died in his sleep on early Sunday morning.  While no cause of death was reported the former Senator was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer last February.  While funeral arrangements have not been announced, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that Dole, one of the longest serving Republicans in the Senate’s history who served as Senate Majority leader from 1985 to 1987 and from 1995 to 1996, will lie in state in the United States Rotunda on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021.  A formal arrival and departure ceremony will be held on Thursday morning.  Dole will join just 34 others, including government officials and military officers, who have had this honor in the U.S. Capitol since 1852.

“Putting his life on the line to defend our nation, he was awarded two Purple Hearts for his valor and sacrifice on the battlefield – and, when he came home, served as an inspiration to millions of Americans living with disabilities.  From the Well of the House to the Floor of the Senate, as a presidential candidate and as an elder statesman, he was one of the foremost advocates for our servicemembers, veterans and military families,” stated Pelosi, in a statement announcing Dole being given the nation’s highest honor to lie in state in the Capitol.   

“Senator Dole exemplified the Greatest Generation, and while I never had the pleasure of serving in the Senate with him, his reputation and his achievements, and most of all his character proceeded him, said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “I always admired his steadfast advocacy for Americans with disabilities, and his love for this country,” he added.

Adds Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, “Whatever their politics, anyone who saw Bob Dole in action had to admire his character and his profound patriotism. Those of us who were lucky to know Bob well ourselves admired him even more. A bright light of patriotic good cheer burned all the way from Bob’s teenage combat heroics, through his whole career in Washington, and through the years since.”

Fixing Social Security

Back in the late 1970s, President Ronald Reagan reacted to Social Security’s short-and long-term financing crisis funding crisis by charging the National Commission on Social Security Reform (NCSSR), chaired by Alan Greenspan, by making recommendations on strengthening the program’s financial viability to Congress.

There were NCSSR members of the bipartisan Commission who did not believe there was an impending fiscal crisis, believing that it was being politically blown out of proportion.  Like today, there were philosophical differences in how to keep Social Security solvent.  

The political polarization that resulted in hammering out recommendations kept the NCSSR from making its original deadline to issue its report. Reagan was forced to extend the life of the Commission, and this ultimately gave time for the 15 members to reach a compromise.

However, even with the NCSSR compromise, there was still political gridlock in Congress as to how to fix Social Security. But a chance reading of Dole’s article on Social Security published in the January 3, 1983 issue of the New York Times, brought Senator Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) together on the Senate floor with the Kansas Senator. Ultimately it was these two seasoned Senators who put political differences aside to draft a bipartisan compromise to allow the passage of NCSSR’s recommendations, including taxation of Social Security benefits and increasing the retirement age for receiving full benefits.

Dole and Moynihan’s “Gang of Seven”, including three NCSSR members and two Reagan advisors, came up with a politically acceptable time frame of payroll tax increases and spending reforms that both the Democrats and Republicans could accept. Meeting outside the halls of Congress, the so-called “Gang of Seven,” Dole, Moynihan, three other members of the Greenspan Commission and two Reagan advisors, came up with a timetable of payroll tax increases and spending reforms that legislators of both parties could accept. On April 20, 1983, President Reagan signed the Social Security reform into law. 

Reaching Across the Aisle

In a statement, President Joe Biden noted that even though he and Dole often disagreed on issues during his time in the Senate, “he never hesitated to work with me or other Democrats when it mattered most.”

“He and Ted Kennedy came together to turn Bob’s lifelong cause into the Americans with Disabilities Act — granting tens of millions of Americans lives of greater dignity,” said Biden.

“When he managed the bill to create a federal holiday in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. — a bill that many in his own caucus opposed — I will never forget what he said to our colleagues: “No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens,” noted Biden.

Finally, Biden noted Dole’s support of  another bipartisan effort, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. This initiative provided school meals and food for nursing mothers and young children. “It saved the lives of countless young people who would otherwise have died in infancy — and brought dignity to tens of millions of families at home and abroad. This work, for Bob, was about more than passing laws. It was written on his heart,” said Biden.

Known for his integrity and trustworthiness, this statesman, war veteran, patriot, knew how to work across the aisle to pass Senate bills that would help seniors, the disabled, and the needy, oftentimes in opposition to his caucus. He put the nation first above politics.

Hopefully, Congress can clearly see Dole’s political legacy of being bipartisan in legislating.  It’s not too late.   

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Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and its sequel, Taking Charge: Vol 2 More Stories on Aging Boldly, go to herbweiss.com.

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