Editor’s note: Gary Franks is writing this column for the vacationing Robert Reich.



MY CHILDREN OFTEN look at me as having lived the Forrest Gump-type life with regard to people I have met, worked with or befriended. Bob Dole is one of those great men.

Sen. Robert “Bob” Dole holds a meaningful, though enigmatic place in my political life as he was never my first choice for the Republican nomination for president. I am embarrassed to say today that he was always my third choice. Yet, he had a positive impact on my 12 years as an elected official and especially the six years I worked with him in Congress. I was a tireless worker for his candidacy for president in 1996.

Since Dole’s career spanned more than 50 years, I was in high school when I first heard his name. And I was just out of college when he first ran for national office as the Republican Party vice presidential candidate.

He had earned the nickname of being a “hatchet” man for his attacks on opponents during the 1976 presidential election between Democrat Jimmy Carter and incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford. He also was a defender of President Richard Nixon as the Republican National Committee chair and a staunch conservative.

I always tell folks that Republican Party candidates have “substance” with a little style and the Democrat Party candidates have “style” with a little substance. The public is good at deciphering between the two qualities, giving Republicans a six to four edge over Democrats in winning the White House during the last 50 years. Democrat victories usually entail individuals with a lot of style; the current occupant, President Joe Biden, being the exception. I say with affection that “boring” could describe all the Republican Party presidents; the last, former President Donald Trump, being the exception.

Dole was not that “warm and fuzzy” guy, but for me, he had his own charm. He was a war hero, loyal friend, honest and patriotic. A man with immense integrity, he could measure people quickly.

He took on political fights and led the charge in a variety of noteworthy areas. Americans with Disabilities Act is his signature achievement, but he also led the passage of every civil rights bill starting in the 1960s. He helped ensure that a higher percentage of Republicans in Congress voted in favor of these bills than Democrats. He supported the Voting Rights Act. He advocated to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day into a national holiday. He pushed legislation to quickly eradicate the rash of black church burnings when I was in Congress. His thumbprint can be found on a lot of meaningful, life-changing legislation over a half century.

He was the Republican Party leader in the Senate for about a decade, leaving Congress in 1996. Back then, Congress passed legislation via Regular Order and normally, in a timely manner. Today, and since the last 25 years, Congress has merely kicked the can down the road. They have failed to do the most basic part of their job as members of Congress when it comes to spending bills.

Regular Order fosters bipartisanship as each subcommittee chair would typically ascertain support from both parties before presenting the spending bill to the full committee and ultimately, to the House or Senate floor for passage.

Today, the loudest voice in the room gets all the attention and raises the most campaign money, not necessarily the best and brightest. The use of Regular Order in Congress would reveal true talent, and those with the most potential to be productive members of Congress and future leaders. Dole understood this fact.

Back in 1983, Dole led the bipartisan effort to keep Social Security solvent until the year 2029, something current members of Congress refuse to tackle.

Lastly, the other bond we shared was over the 1996 election. Dole ended his career in Congress voluntarily, on his own terms, by resigning. Conversely, that same year, my elected career ended involuntarily when I lost my bid for a fourth term in Congress. God knows best.

A new era in politics had begun. For Republicans, the media seemed to join the unions as a de facto appendage of the Democratic Party. Cable news had arrived. A charismatic incumbent, President Bill Clinton, would go on to beat Dole by nine points in the 1996 election.

A pivotal issue was Medicare. President Clinton, with the help of the media, had convinced the public that Republican efforts to save Medicare — which the Congressional Budget Office now says can remain solvent only until 2024 — amounted to a big cut in Medicare spending. In reality, the Republican Party wanted to slow the growth of Medicare. Both parties were seeking to increase Medicare spending.

Yes, a new era of politics was beginning, where half-truths and distortions were becoming commonplace.

America needs more Doles. He was a gentleman; a leader willing to take on any foe, domestic or foreign; a worker fighting for “Americans first” and a pragmatist. He realized that compromise and bipartisanship brings Americans together, making us a stronger nation and ensuring our greatness for decades to come.



Gary Franks served three terms as U.S. representative for Connecticut’s 5th District. He was the first Black Republican elected to the House in nearly 60 years and New England’s first Black member of the House. He is the host of the “We Speak Frankly” podcast and author of “With God, For God and For Country.”