My old friend and colleague Bob Dole was a progressive conservative, a term he would not have thought a contradiction. As a child of the Kansas prairies and a veteran of World War II, he didn't think government could fix everything. But the things it could fix, it should — and right now.
Three things were extraordinary about Dole: His unique brand of leadership, his legislative range, and his sense of humor. Let's hope his approach to public policy hasn't died with him.
Dole contributed something to every major bill passed in the 1980s and early 1990s. He shaped good farm bills, tax bills, health bills and, of course, the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Most of his great policy work never made it to the front page because he sought and won consensus. Things everybody came to agree made good sense were not news.
But every program Dole touched emerged fairer, better designed and more effective. OSHA, Clean Air, highway funding and policy, Medicare and veterans' programs will continue to work better for decades because of his practical reforms.
Many top leaders demand that everything be funneled back to themselves. Dole's approach was the opposite. During his time as majority leader, he was constantly spotting issues and distributing them to senators to handle. He trusted others and developed their talents by letting them run with issues.
I remember a few times seeing staff policy papers that had been presented to Dole come back with "Give it to Dave" scrawled across the top.
President George H.W. Bush and Dole were two leaders who needed each other and benefited from the other's strengths. Bush brought prudence; Dole brought activism and pride in the role of the Senate, which made a U.S. president stronger. As a result, in Bush's time, bills moved through both the Senate and the House as seldom before and never since. Together they gave Senate Democratic Leader George Mitchell an opportunity to influence legislation.
Little did we know we were living in a golden age of bipartisanship and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches.
Fifty years after the event, I was fortunate to travel with Dole to the place north of Rome where young 2nd Lt. Bob Dole had a bullet crush his right shoulder in 1945. He spent the rest of his remaining years in pain — and almost no one knew how much. He had left for World War II as Jack Armstrong, "the All-American boy," and came back shattered. His ability to conquer disability and depression built his optimism that any challenge could be overcome if you worked hard and thought right.
Dole always covered his pain with humor, mostly at his own expense. When he was running for president he once arrived late to an event in Minnesota. He apologized and explained that he had stopped off at Mount Rushmore "for a fitting."
He often said, "In America, any child can grow up to be president ... so I guess that's just a risk you take."
When our founders created our unique form of representative democracy — sending special people to Washington who could pass good laws for the benefit of average folks — they could have had Dole in mind. He knew how to listen, but he was never afraid to do what seemed right in his heart and mind.
Bob Dole is gone. I dearly hope and pray his approach to governing is not.
David Durenberger represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate, 1978-1995.