By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,532)
“When I was elected Senate Majority Leader, I called Bob Dole and went to his office. I told him there had to be trust between us. I’d never surprise him, never embarrass him and not make it personal,” former Senator George J. Mitchell (D) – Maine told a packed house of mostly seniors last Thursday afternoon at a speakers’ series at Hannaford Hall, the Abromson Center on the USM campus, Portland. “Not one harsh word has ever passed between us,” Mitchell said of his relationship with Dole. Former Republican Senator Robert Dole, 90, (R-KS) and former Senate Majority Leader and Mitchell, 80, remain friends to this day.
Of all his impressive accomplishments, Mitchell said the one of which he’s proudest is the scholarship fund he established for high school students in Maine. To date, the fund has sent 2,000 high school seniors from all over Maine to college. Two hundred and fifty of them are in the Maine College system now. Mitchell, the son of immigrants, said that one of the criteria to be a scholarship recipient is need. Maine has a high percentage of high school graduates, but a low rate of college graduates. “Money is the reason,” said the fit and tan Mitchell. A Maine native, he attended Bowdoin College and Georgetown Law Center, Washington, D.C. in 1960.
Mitchell’s sense of humor was never far from the forefront. He recalled one experience when he was working for the legendary former US Senator Edmund S. Muskie during the 60’s. Mitchell was a go-for for the late Maine native. On one occasion he was driving Muslim from speech to speech in Aroostook County. After a long pause, Muskie asked him what he thought of his last speech. “It was too long,” he said. “You are a smart young guy. Most likely you like the sound of your own voice,” Muskie told hm. Although he was known for his temper, Mitchell said that next to his own parents, the most influential person in his life was Muskie. Mitchell received two standing ovations during his 45 minute talk and was frequently interrupted by laughter as well.
“Politics does not have to be as acrimonious as it is today, although it has always been rough and tumble,” said Mitchell. He was referring to the current tone of politics coming from the far right of Republican politics – the Tea Party wing. Competition between the parties is needed, but cooperation is also needed. “Where is the line between politics and civility?” he asked. “It’s difficult to answer.”
Referring to his peace keeping role in Ireland between 1995 and 2000, Mitchell said he listened to the views of the people. He listened to the views of people with whom he did not agree. “We have to accept the fact we may not be right. We democrats have certainly been wrong at times.” In response to a question from the audience about intervening around the world, Mitchell pondered the question – what justifies our intervening. Does humanitarian relief alone justify our intervention or are other factors involved? “Future presidents will have to use restraint, because we’ll have wars all over the world. We can’t stray too far from our aspirations,” Mitchell said.
The former Congressman maintains a busy speaking schedule, but this lecture was pro bono for the OLLI-Muskie School of Public Service Speakers’ Series. For more information, check the website at: www.usm.maine.edu/muskie/politics-then-and-now.