On Tuesday, members of the U.S. House followed their colleagues in the Senate and voted to award former Sen. Bob Dole the Congressional Gold Medal. Since the first medal was presented to George Washington in the spring of 1776, Congress has offered no higher “expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.”
Nobody is more deserving of this award than Dole. He was wounded by German machine gun fire in Italy during World War II; he spent eight years in the House and 27 years in the Senate; he has been a Republican candidate for both president and vice president; and he has long been one of our country’s most devoted advocates for veterans. Dole oversaw fundraising efforts for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., worked with the Honor Flight program to help veterans see the memorial in person and accepted an appointment to the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors in 2007.
When he was in Congress, Dole had a reputation for bipartisanship — one of the reasons why he was the longest-serving Republican leader in the Senate. Dole worked with Democrats on everything from the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to Social Security reform in 1983 to civil rights legislation. Dole didn’t just demonstrate courage on the battlefield — he was also willing to endure the ire of his constituents when a principle was at stake. As a member of the House, Dole voted in favor of both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — extremely controversial bills at the time.
This is a particularly important time to honor a statesman who worked across the aisle and inspired confidence in his leadership. Americans’ faith in government is collapsing. According to Gallup, our trust in political leaders has fallen from 63 percent in 2004 to 42 percent in 2016. Between 2000 and 2010, an average of 23.3 percent of Americans said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. Since 2010, that proportion has dropped to 10 percent (reaching a low point of 7 percent in 2014). Meanwhile, President Trump’s approval rating is 36 percent — lower than any other president at this point in their first term since Gallup started tracking the number in 1945.
As confidence falters, partisan enmity has been exploding. When Dole was Senate Majority Leader in 1995, 74 percent of Republicans had an unfavorable attitude toward Democrats and 21 percent described their perception as “very unfavorable.” At the same time, 59 percent of Democrats looked upon Republicans unfavorably, and 17 percent held a “very unfavorable” view. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? It gets much worse. In 2016, the proportions surged to 91 percent (unfavorable) and 58 percent (very unfavorable) among Republicans. Democrats are only slightly less hostile — 86 percent (unfavorable) and 55 percent (very unfavorable).
Political polarization is one of the reasons why Congress is so unpopular, but our representatives are often just responding to the changing attitudes of their constituents. Our country is in dire need of bipartisan leadership. We need members of Congress who can earn our confidence by passing major initiatives like an infrastructure bill or Social Security reform (something Dole was able to accomplish by working with Democrats like New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1980s).
If more politicians behaved like Dole, it wouldn’t take long before confidence in our government would start to recover.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.