IF TOLERANCE is to be the leitmotif of Bob Dole's bid for the presidency, history will treat him well even if he loses in November.
As he bid farewell to the Senate yesterday, his insistence on applying tolerance to the anguished issue of abortion had already gotten him in trouble.
Once free of prepared handouts, with all their artful ambiguities, he gloriously offended the religious right Monday by saying his call last week for tolerance in the Republican platform would not be relegated to a vague preamble, as his handlers had hinted, but would be tied directly to the plank dealing with abortion.
This was the way it was when the 1980 GOP convention called for a constitutional ban on abortion but recognized "differing views on this question." This was not the way it was after the anti-abortion faction eliminated any reference to "differing views" subsequent platforms.
While Mr. Dole himself has long opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger, he told a TV interviewer he was going back to the 1980 formula. "It's not negotiable," he declared. "It's the decision. And that's going to be in the plank. . . not in the preamble. It seems to me if you want to make it clear to the people that we're tolerant, you make it [there.] This is a moral issue. It's not like all the other things in the platform, and it ought to be right up there where people can see it."
Predictably, religious right leaders suggested they would be in San Diego insisting that the Republican Party stick to the adamant spirit of the 1980 Houston convention that got the GOP in such trouble. But in so doing, they were taking on a man who stressed in his farewell Senate speech that "your word is your bond." "The American people are looking at us and want us to tell the truth," he added. "Doesn't mean we have to agree. Doesn't mean we can't have different motivations."
The majority leader's colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, were lavish in their praise. Some of it was pure Senate boilerplate, to be sure. But Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., got down to the nub when he said: "Bob Dole is a good man. He keeps his word." For months, there has been speculation that some of Mr. Dole's Democratic colleagues might even vote for him.
We applaud the presidential nominee's vow to put his "call for tolerance" directly into the abortion plank, where it belongs. If he sticks to this, it will buttress his assertion that "character" is the essential element of this campaign.
Pub Date: 6/12/96