When a politician takes leave from the corridors of power, no matter what the circumstances, the dearly departing is accorded a hearty round of parties and windy testimonials. No praise is too grand, no cake too big.
So it has been with Bob Dole's departure from the Senate this week. Everyone from the elevator operators to former President Gerald Ford have feted him as he embarks on his final political quest.Yet this leave-taking transcends the standard exit, and so too have the tributes - perhaps none more than the silent one bestowed on him last month.
On that sunny afternoon as Dole stood with the Capitol dome as his backdrop to announce his resignation, a parade of Democrats joined the circle of friends around him.
To fellow Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, it was quite simple: "He will be missed on both sides of the aisle."
On Tuesday, Dole will resign the Senate to run full-time for the presidency, marking the end of an era on Capitol Hill. The longest-serving leader in the history of the Senate, Dole turns control over to a younger class of partisans who knew not the Depression, World War II nor the days when membership in the clubby Senate superseded party loyalty.
Dole's resignation was a political decision, sparked by low polls that cried out for an attention-grabbing maneuver. It was also a recognition that the strengths that have carried Dole so far in life may not be sufficient to reach the one goal that has eluded him.
If his go-for-broke strategy works, all the world will recall the Dole presidency. Yet many observers say Dole's lengthy congressional career long ago secured him his place in history.
"If Kansas didn't already have two statues in Statuary Hall, he would deserve a place on a pedestal," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has written two books on the Senate.
Although today's right-wing Republicans question Dole's fealty to the cause, he was a conservative before many of them were born. When he arrived in the House in 1962, all he knew were traditional Midwestern Republicans - and that's the way he voted.
He has consistently opposed abortion rights, promoted deficit reduction and voted against most of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society legislation, including the formation of Medicare.
Few in Washington defended President Nixon as vehemently as Dole - whether it was a controversial Supreme Court nominee, the anti-ballistic missile program or Vietnam. The Nixon White House came to rely so heavily on him they would rush vitriolic speeches marked "URGENT" to Dole's office for immediate delivery on the Senate floor.
In the early years, Dole's sharp views and even sharper tongue earned him few friends on Capitol Hill. One House colleague described the young Kansan as "somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan," while Sen. William Saxbe, R-Ohio, declared: "He's so unpopular, he couldn't sell beer on a troop ship."
It was Saxbe who bestowed on Dole the nickname that still haunts him: "Hatchet Man."
After 34 years in Congress, 27 in the Senate, there's no great piece of legislation that carries the Dole name. Yet virtually every significant bill bears his fingerprints.
"He has been at the center of fiscal policy for 20 years," noted Baker. "His legislative monuments would include the food stamp program, the rescue of the Social Security Trust Fund in 1983 and the 1982 tax bill, which basically rescued the Reagan administration from the huge deficit it had run up."
As Dole has matured and honed his political skills, his legislative resume has become more pragmatic and more bipartisan.
Throughout his career, he has joined with such notable Democrats as: George McGovern on food stamps; Tom Harkin on the Americans with Disabilities Act; George Mitchell on clean air and the late Claude Pepper on Social Security.
In foreign affairs, fiscal policy and civil rights, Dole has often bucked his party. He supported President Clinton's efforts in Bosnia; co-sponsored the Glass Ceiling Commission on women's rights and led the fight for a national holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.
"This is a man who never broke his word," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "In this institution, that's the critical element."
Virtually every Republican credits Dole for helping break a logjam or broker a deal that moved their legislation.
Still, Dole's ability to compromise should not be mistaken for weakness. Almost every senator indebted to him for one victory knows they have Dole to thank for many more defeats. As much as Dole's record is one of accomplishment, some of the highlights were things he stopped.
For Dole, the key to legislating is finding the means to an end.
Shortly after Dole's tearful announcement May 15, his colleagues drifted onto the Senate floor to pay tribute.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., his longtime friend, predicted Dole will be remembered in history as "among the giants and the real leaders of the U.S. Senate."
Sen. Bill Roth, R-Del., called Dole courageous from his days on the battlefield to that day of retirement.
But again, it was a Democrat who delivered a surprise.
"I think sometimes we get so partisan here that we forget the contributions that people are making," said Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill. "I am supporting Bill Clinton. But I am not going to buy a one-way ticket to Canada if Bob Dole gets elected."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)