Hey, Scott — Bob Dole Did the Same Thing to Me

Posted June 2, 2008 at 2:09pm

As far as I know, Scott McClellan and I have only one thing in common: Bob Dole has attacked us both.

[IMGCAP(1)]Dole’s attack on McClellan occurred last week when he sent an e-mail to the former White House press secretary to express his unhappiness about his tell-all book. Dole, a Kansas Republican who served as Senate Majority Leader, never said anything in the book was wrong. He simply implied that, because of his character, McClellan’s opinion wasn’t worth reading.

Dole’s attack on me occurred three weeks shy of 15 years ago. As you might suspect, it had to do with the federal budget. As was the case last week, he didn’t dispute the substance of what I said.

It was 1993, and the Senate was debating the budget resolution, which was based on the first Clinton budget. I had been quoted the day before in the Philadelphia Inquirer saying the economic forecast in that budget was the most honest in more than a decade. Coming after a series of budgets that had economic outlooks derisively named Rosy Scenario (and that was the most polite name used), this was actually a pretty easy call.

I learned later that the White House had circulated a copy of the article to at least all Democratic Senators and possibly to the full Senate. Three Democrats — I think they were Budget Chairman Jim Sasser (Tenn.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Majority Leader George Mitchell (Maine) — mentioned the Inquirer article and used my quote during the debate to explain why a vote in favor of the budget resolution was justified.

Around lunchtime, Dole came to the Senate floor and went after me by name. As was the case with his criticism of McClellan this week, he never disputed anything I had said or even tried to argue that it was incorrect.

Instead, and again as he did in his e-mail to McClellan, he attacked me personally. He implied that my opinion wasn’t worth anything because I had worked for three Democratic House Members. Somehow that made what I was saying incorrect, even though I hadn’t worked for anyone on Capitol Hill for more than a decade.

Dole also implied that the media was out to get the GOP. His exact words were that the Inquirer had published a “bash-Republican article.” And Dole swatted aside the fact that I was then working for one of the biggest, most prestigious and most credible public accounting firms. He insisted that I could only be considered a Democratic analyst and anything I said had to be evaluated with that in mind.

Much of Dole’s criticism sounds positively quaint by today’s standards. These days, Fox analysts participate in fundraisers for Republican candidates, former White House political and communications directors are positioned as objective commentators, the words of former campaign managers are taken as gospel and they’re treated as rock stars, and whole television networks are labeled as favoring a particular political party or ideology.

But in 1993, Dole thought it would be positively damning to attack me as a partisan and to imply that what I said shouldn’t be taken seriously. He subsequently did an interview with another paragon of bipartisanship — Rush Limbaugh — and repeated his comments about me.

About a month or so after he attacked me on the Senate floor, I saw Dole being interviewed live on television and I called the studio to ask that he call me. Much to his credit, Dole returned the call.

He didn’t apologize for what he had done but did say that I shouldn’t take it personally. He said my quote in the Inquirer was being used too effectively for it to be ignored and that he had wanted to limit the damage during the budget resolution debate by hurting my credibility. He then suggested I stop by his office for coffee.

I continue to have two reactions to what Dole did on the Senate floor and the phone call that followed. First, this was pretty heady stuff; something I said was considered important enough in the budget debate in Congress that it or I had to be debunked. Although it was a little unnerving at the time, in retrospect I’m actually quite pleased about it.

Second, Dole’s subtext during the phone call was clear: It was a warning. He didn’t use these words, but I took his ultimate message to be that he wouldn’t hesitate to rip my throat out again in public if the need arose, so I should be careful about what I said in the future.

That’s also clearly what Dole was saying to McClellan last week when he used the same tactic on him that was used on me 15 years ago. Dole wasn’t disputing the substance of anything McClellan was saying, but he obviously felt the need to reduce the credibility of the person saying it because it was perceived to be damaging.

My advice to Scott (whom I have never met) is: Don’t spend too much time worrying about what happened last week. I can tell you from personal experience that you’ll soon be laughing about the whole experience. I still have a framed copy of the page from the Congressional Record with Dole’s attack on me hanging in my office. I smile whenever I look at it.

Stan Collender is managing director at Qorvis Communications and author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.” His blog is Capital Gains and Games.