By now there have been hundreds of assessments of what is being called the "Bob Dole move." Dole supporters see a rejuvenation of his campaign; Dole detractors are calling it a sign of desperation.
The best sizing up of Mr. Dole's surprising exit from the Senate has come, in my opinion, from a very unlikely source - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros. As one of the nation's top Democrats and a liberal public official with views diametrically different from Dole's, I would have expected Mr. Cisneros to see little that was politically helpful for Dole in his dramatic move.
But how wrong I was! At a Monitor breakfast with the secretary the day following Dole's announcement, I asked him for his comments and found Cisneros describing the Dole move as "bold," "courageous," and adding, "I think it has the potential to work for him."
"People kind of like that kind of drama," he said. "They respect someone who puts it all on the line." Phil Gramm, as a Texas congressman, switched parties (from Democratic to Republican); it has been very helpful for him politically, Cisneros noted.
He continued, "This willingness to risk it politically sometimes helps a candidate. I, of course, don't know whether this will play this way."
Here a reporter asked what Cisneros thought of Dole. He said he had worked with Dole over the years and then without prodding he added this tribute:
"I have a great admiration for him. I am most impressed, first and foremost, with the man's stamina. He has the ability to work very hard and long. I frequently work a full day and the last thing I do before going to bed at 11:30 is to look at TV, and there is Bob Dole on the floor of the Senate at some late-night session. And then I wake up the next morning and I take a quick look at what is on the morning shows and there is Bob Dole doing an interview."
The same reporter: "Then he's impressed you?"
"Very much. He's also got an iron will. And those are impressive traits. The man also has an intellect and a capacity for all of the skills of politics - for remembering people, for putting together alliances, for interconnecting. So I think we are going to be treated to a national election where two of the very best are pitted against each other: two of the very best but two with dramatically different visions of the future. That makes for a classic election."
"It seems to me," another reporter said, "that no matter how this election turns out, you ought to be able to stick on your present job." As Cisneros joined the assembled journalists in a big laugh, he commented, joshingly: "With the possibility that the department for which I work will be eliminated, I doubt if there will be a place for me."
Oh, yes, Cisneros also had some advice for Dole. "The efficacy of this [Dole's move] will depend on whether people actually see something new after this in Dole. If they get the same speeches and same ideological phrases, then I don't think it will make much of a difference."
I look for comments like those of Cisneros when trying to assess political events. I sense there is objectivity in observations that are not in line with political self-interest - or in expressions of views from columnists that run counter to their usual ideological thrust. Liberal columnist Mary McGrory, in reviewing Dole's dramatic TV exit performance, said: "Everyone knew that Bob Dole was better than his campaign. A number of people think that he's better than Bill Clinton. He has said it's all about character. Now at last he's shown some, and it certainly can't hurt him."
I'm prepared to believe that Bob Dole did a lot of good for himself the other day. Perhaps he gave new life to his campaign. Perhaps he's now going to be able to contend strongly for the championship.