Friday, March 23, 2012


Eileen McMenamin and Senator John McCain

By contributor Donna Shor
Photos by Neshan H. Naltchayan

“A Century of Service’ was the title of last night’s gala honoring former senators Bob Dole and Howard Baker, referring to the combined total of their fifty years of public service. 

Howard Baker and Robert Dole

You can find the clue to why these two were celebrated at the gala by looking at the name of the group honoring them: The Bipartisan Policy Center.

Dole and Baker are from the era when politicos still practiced bipartisanship in Washington. To help perpetuate it, they founded the Center in 2007, along with former senators Tom Daschle and George Mitchell.  “Compromise" between Republicans and Democrats was not a dirty word then, but a means of moving legislation forward.     

Instead, today’s official mean-spiritedness−with its political reindeer games and pot shots―not only blocks needed action on the Hill, it even reaches the same-party contests with the current presidential candidates.  They are presently trooping the country in the primaries, assassinating the characters of their fellow-party rivals en route, in what seems an especially virulent disregard of collateral damage to their own team.  

The legislative rancor has been so great, Maine’s iconic Senator Olympia Snowe has chosen to retire, citing the partisan gridlock she says has made the Senate unproductive.

Speakers at last night’s fifth annual BPC gala at Andrew Mellon auditorium addressed the audience saying Baker and Dole had demonstrated bipartisanship despite being in the thick of political action.  Both were Republican Senate majority leaders, both had campaigned for the presidency.  As their long careers unfolded, said their peers, they demonstrated both their ability to broker agreements and their political effectiveness.  

Vice President Joe Biden with Elizabeth Dole
Two Democrats, Tom Daschle  and Vice-president Joe Biden, praised them first, extolling their aptitude for reasonable dialogue and their urge, as Daschle said “to find common ground.”

Biden listed career milestones, emphasizing Dole’s dignity and personal courage, and Baker’s willingness to take political risks—as when he defied the majority of his party by backing the return of the Panama Canal to that country.

“He acted because he thought it was the right thing to do”, said the Vice President, “although it could have been political suicide.  “I’ve never served with a man or woman who possessed more integrity or wisdom,” he added.

Bill Clinton, by video, said that even when he was in disagreement, he “never doubted their commitment to make America stronger.” 

Elaine Chao and Elizabeth Dole

Speakers also included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, present Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former senators Trent Lott, Bill Frist, Lamar Alexander, Pat Roberts and also Jason Grumet, president of the Center, who welcomed the guests..

When the two honorees spoke, Baker got a laugh when he said that instead of giving his speech, he would follow Senate rules, and “just ask that it be entered in the record.”

The men were accompanied by their wives, former senators Elizabeth Dole, and Nancy Kassebaum Baker, the daughter of one-time presidential candidate Alfred Landon.

The night was such a love-in those 100 years of service it celebrated could have been called (to paraphrase Gabriel Garcia Marquez) “One Hundred Years of Solicitude.”

When asked his opinion of the evening, the former senator from Louisiana John Breaux said woefully, “I wish we had as much unity up on the Hill now as we have with everybody here tonight.”

Inside the event: