The late Sen. Bob Dole knew that winning isn’t everything in politics.

Dole, who died Sunday at the age of 98, lost all three of his presidential campaigns but still left his mark on history as a tough partisan “hatchet man” whose patriotism and conscience compelled him to work with his adversaries for the good of the country.

In between campaigns, Dole helped save Social Security with liberal New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and worked to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act with another liberal senator, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

And as the Senate Republican leader in the early 1990s, Dole set up an informal communication system with Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, which they used to make sure that there would be no public surprises that would stop the Senate from doing its job.

Dole may not have always liked the other party – he did once try to deflect a question about the Watergate scandal by claiming that Democrats were responsible for all the wars in the 20th century. But he displayed a sense of duty when it came to working across the aisle.

“In politics, honorable compromise is no sin,” Dole said in 1996. “It is what protects us from absolutism and intolerance.”

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It was an attitude that was characteristic of his generation: As the last World War II veteran to run for president, Dole talked openly about the importance of sacrifice for the public good, even if that meant putting aside part of your political agenda. Bipartisanship was not an end itself, but the way to keep the government functioning and democracy alive, a cause for which he was called to fight and nearly died when he was just 21.

These ideas seem so far removed from the politics of today. There are members of Congress who measure success by the size of their social media following and not what they have done to help the people they represent.

We have seen a president incite a riot at the U.S. Capitol, in the hopes that it would create enough chaos for him to steal the election. Dole vocally supported Donald Trump in his 2020 race but did not buy the former president’s claim that the election had been stolen. President Biden, who Dole described as a “great, kind, upstanding, decent person,” won the election fair and square, said Dole, who still described himself as a “Trumper,” expressing a level of evenhandedness that is virtually unheard of today.

Greatness, Dole once said, is measured not by your job title, but by “how honest you are in how you face adversity and in your willingness to stand fast in hard places.”

Dole may never have won the presidency, but by his own standard he was a great American.


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