A Memory of Bob Dole
In the summer of 1982, I was a special assistant to assistant secretary of labor John Cogan. That summer, the U.S. was still in the midst of the 1981-82 recession. When you’re in it, you don’t know how long you’re in it and you don’t know you’re out of it until at least a few months after you are. That meant that there was strong pressure to renew the federal extension of unemployment benefits. On the other hand, there was a reasonable case to be made that the extension of unemployment benefits was extending the recession.
The Senate had a bipartisan proposal to the extend the federal extension (an additional 13 weeks, if I recall correctly) of unemployment benefits. The Reagan administration opposed this extension and John Cogan was tasked to write and deliver the testimony on this before the Senate Finance Committee. The Republicans were in the majority in the Senate and so Bob Dole was chairman of Senate Finance.
I helped Cogan write the testimony. I think we made the argument in the testimony that extending the benefits would keep unemployment higher than otherwise. As a kind of reward, I got to go and sit behind him when he testified, close enough that I could whisper thoughts into his ear.
We got slammed. It wasn’t just that no one on either side of the aisle who was on the Senate Finance Committee agreed with us. It was that (and I learned later that this was par for the course) their way of expressing disagreement was to be nasty. So Democrat Bill Bradley was nasty; Democrat Russell Long was nasty; and Republican Bob Dole was nasty.
I kept whispering comebacks into Cogan’s ear but he didn’t bite on any of them.
A former student of mine from Santa Clara University, Ken Kam, was in town and I had told him that he might want to attend and see how we did.
He did attend and afterward he told me words to the effect, “I agreed with you guys on the policy but even I hated you by the end.”
I had thought to check my watch when our turn came and again when it ended. I had thought, given the treatment we received, that we had been there 2 hours. The actual time: 26 minutes.
By the way, none of this means that I hold Dole in contempt. Indeed, from everything I know, I liked him substantially more than the median Senator. I think he was a sharp man with a sharp wit and he had some integrity.