In time Dole would become Senate majority leader, Republican vice presidential nominee and GOP presidential nominee; Hart would become perhaps the most liberal member of the Senate and so respected that a sparkling new office building would bear his name; and Inouye would become a giant of the chamber, revered for his iron-strong integrity and remembered for his roles in the two signature scandals of the second half of the 20th century, Watergate and Iran-Contra.
For Inouye, there was all that plus the most thankless job in the Capitol, serving as defense counsel for disgraced Sen. Harrison Williams of New Jersey in the 1981 Senate Abscam trial because no one else would take the assignment. “Danny accepted it and made a presentation on the floor that was one of the best examples of advocacy I’ve ever seen,” said former GOP Sen. William Cohen of Maine.
Inouye’s death during this week of fraught budget negotiations underlines the changes in American politics since the time when he served with Dole, who left the chamber in 1996, and with Hart, who died in 1976. Indeed, at last month’s memorial for another of their tribe, GOP Sen. Warren B. Rudman of New Hampshire, Inouye and former Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee talked about how the old Senate differed from the new.
“Danny always tried to work with others,” former Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas, now married to Baker, remembered in a telephone call. “Both Howard and I and Danny himself said we need to return to a different time, when we were willing to work across the aisle, not just willing to draw lines in the sand.”
The relationship tying Dole, 89, to Inouye, who was 88, spanned two-thirds of a century, nearly a third of the entire history of the United States.