It was a rare moment of grace in what has become any ever-increasingly graceless age.
It was three years ago.
When former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kansas, a wheelchair-bound old man, visited the Capitol where the remains of the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, lay in state, he stood before the casket and saluted. It was a tribute, an offering of respect, from one leader to another.
From one rival to another.
What made it moving was the fact that the two men had not always gotten along. Bush and Dole jousted for political office several times.
In 1976, both men were under consideration to be President Gerald Ford’s running mate as Ford squared off against Jimmy Carter. Dole prevailed and became the vice-presidential nominee that year, only to lose in the general election to Carter and Walter Mondale.
Four years later, they both ran for president — and they both lost in the battle for the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan. Once again, both were in the pool to be vice-presidential picks. That time, Bush won and went on to serve as the nation’s vice president for eight years.
In 1988, they tilted at each other again in the race to succeed Reagan. By then, their dueling ambitions had been throwing them into conflict for more than a decade. The friction between them rubbed some spots raw.
On national television right after the New Hampshire primary — a primary Bush won, on his way to capturing the GOP nomination and the presidency — the two men shared the screen for a moment. When the anchor asked Dole if he had anything to say to Bush, Dole snarled, “Stop lying about my record.”
By then, there was little love lost between the two men.
And yet …
When Bush became president, Dole was the Republican leader in the Senate. Together, they presided over a crowded era of milestones.
The Cold War ended, which meant that not just the United States but the entire world had to readjust itself after spending more than 40 years in constant preparation for the onset of World War III. The economic and social upheavals were significant and painful.
Bush and Dole provided steadying hands and leadership.
They collaborated on a tax increase that enraged the Republican base but set up the American economy for a period of, at that time, almost unparalleled growth. It wasn’t enough to keep Bush from going down to defeat in 1992 to Democrat Bill Clinton, but it was the right thing to do.
Tthey put the needs of the country ahead of those of their party’s most devoted supporters.
That’s one takeaway from their story.
The other is that they were able to put aside their differences and find ways to work together. Maybe the fact that they both had been to war and had experienced trauma in combat taught them that some differences just aren’t worth nurturing. A grievance can be a heavy load to carry.
It is that profound understanding that we seem to have lost in this country. We now hoard slights as if they were treasures and crave payback the way gluttons hunger for their next dish. We live now in a land rich in quarrels and poor when it comes to problem-solving.
Bob Dole had reason to feel aggrieved toward George Bush. They both were strong-willed men who had clashed hard and often.
Yet they found it within themselves to forgive past offenses and embrace the greater good as they saw it.
Dole died Dec. 5. He was 98.
The path he walked regarding his fallen rival — from snarled anger to mournful salute — is one more of us should travel if we wish to redeem this era.
And our nation.