Bob Dole bid an emotional farewell last week to the US Senate. He weathered many storms there, but his was usually a sure hand at the tiller.
Now he steps into a craft, his presidential campaign, with much trickier steering, and which is currently tossed by a gale of Mr. Dole's own making.
But there's method in the candidate's willingness to roil the waters after he supposedly smoothed them last week by announcing he favored inclusion of a tolerance statement in the GOP convention platform. Though intended to moderate the party's unequivocal call for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, the statement was to be innocuously placed in the platform's preamble rather than its text - or so Dole aides and party right-wingers thought.
Their candidate has now made it clear that the tolerance wording should be placed more prominently, preferably right in the abortion plank. That, alas, is heresy to ardent pro-lifers such as Patrick Buchanan. To them, it implies a retreat from the party's stated intolerance of abortion.
To many other Republicans, however, it's an indication that their man has the courage to brave the right wing's fury on a matter of principle. The principle, says Dole, is a respect for those with differing points of view, even when you strongly disagree.
If people have trouble with that, the candidate said with senatorial finality, "that's fine with me." It will take continued courage to stick by that stand and risk another Buchanan-stirred tempest at the convention this August.
But the stand for tolerance is likely to do Dole more good than harm. First, it strikes a chord for moderation that will ring true for most voters and might open the way for a moderate vice-presidential candidate. Second, voters have their eye out for someone with the moral fiber to take a position because it's right, regardless of the political fallout. That's the character issue in a nutshell.