Senator Bob Dole remembers Senator Philip A. Hart
September 28, 1997
Bob Dole in Detroit for a War and Remembrance Day
Former Senator and Presidential Candidate Bob Dole comes to Detroit on a mission that had its origin in a World War II Army hospital.
On September 28, 1997 Dole will share a podium with Senator Carl Levin at the Museum of African American History in Detroit. Both will reflect on the civility of the leadership style that made Senator Philip A. Hart distinctively effective. Hart was known for his civility in politics, a trait which many feel is lacking in politics today.
The September 28th event is the finale to a 20th anniversary campaign. The original event was designed to create the only memorial Senator Philip A. Hart asked for before he died 20 years ago. The memorial is a scholarship fund at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, a school Hart admired because some 70 percent of its students were the first of the family to go to college. The event is made possible, in part, by a grant from Ford Motor Company Fund.
The two were contemporaries in the Senate for eight (8) years, Dole a conservative Republican from Kansas, Hart a liberal Democrat from Michigan.
But their relationship began at Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek. Lt. Col. Hart, who had landed in Normandy with the 4th Infantry Division was in an officers’ ward for treatment of a shattered shoulder. Dole was a few beds away with two useless arms. A third patient was Captain Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii who had left an arm in Italy. In 1958, both Hart and Inouye became members of the Senate.
In a Hart biography published by Michigan State University, Dole remembered, “He (Hart) did everything he could, not withstanding his own injuries, to make the rest more comfortable and endeared himself to every man in that ward.”
Hart, who had two good legs and one good arm, acted as a handyman for patients less mobile. He carried in treats from the PX and when the nurses were busy, fed Dole his meals.
“A discussion of civility’s status in Congress is most appropriate for this memorial because Hart’s unfailing civility and gentle manner were exactly what made him a force in the Senate for 18 years,” said Walter O. Briggs IV, who is chairman of the event. “Because he always respected and understood his opponents, they never became his enemies.”
To date, 60 students at LSSU, most of them aspiring to public service work, have had college expenses paid by the interest from the Philip A. Hart Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Hart was elected to the Senate in 1958, defeating incumbent Senator Charles Potter in a campaign distinguished by its civility.
Six years later he won against GOP National Committeewoman Elly Peterson whose husband, a national guard colonel was accused of wrongdoing in the midst of the campaign. When asked for a comment, Hart responded that the charges were unproven, and, in any case, Mrs. Peterson’s integrity had never been challenged. “He stopped just short of endorsing her,” grumbled the campaign aide who had set up the press conference.
In 1970, campaigning against Lenore Romney, he denounced a group of young hecklers who had interrupted a speech by Vice President Spiro Agnew in support of Romney’s candidacy.
By this time, his stature in the Senate had grown large. In 1964, he served as deputy to Senator Hubert Humphrey, floor leader of the historic Civil Rights Act passed that year. The following year, Hart himself served as floor leader and chief strategist of the Voting Rights Act, bringing the bill to passage after six weeks of filibuster.
Meanwhile his bills had created two national parks in Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes in the lower peninsula, and Pictured Rocks in the upper peninsula.
Congress also passed the Hart-Scott-Radino bill, an anti-trust measure that even today still effects corporate merger activity.
As he sickened with cancer toward the end of his last term, a Senate office building was named after him, although he didn’t ask for it.
And, by 1972, he had acquired a new title, one that he was initially a little embarrassed by. The title was awarded first by the press and then by his colleagues: the Conscience of the Senate.
“It was an apt title,” says Jerry Kabel, of Bloomfield Hills, Hart’s press secretary for 10 years. “He was often able to get the Senate to do the right thing instead of the selfish thing. And he didn’t nag. He didn’t scold. He didn’t attack. He did it by calmly and diffidently explaining his reasoning and laying out the logic of his position. It offended no one and if it embarrassed some, the embarrassment was private. It’s a shame that so few have emulated that style.
“It’s a style that may come back,” says Briggs, who as Hart’s nephew had observed it closely. “And it will have a better chance of reviving if we bring it to mind from time to time. September 28th will be one of those times.”
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