Odd Couple

November 14, 1994|By DAVID SHRIBMAN

Washington -- Bob Dole worries about subcommittee assignments, Newt Gingrich broods about the future of Western civilization. Mr. Dole comports himself like a master sergeant, Mr. Gingrich considers himself a grand strategist. Mr. Dole steps to the beat of Main Street, Mr. Gingrich is more interested in reshaping mainstream thinking.

Mr. Dole of Kansas, the Senate majority leader, and Mr. Gingrich of Georgia, the incoming House speaker, will be the Odd Couple of Republicanism, as different as Mantovani and Mick Jagger. But now they have to reach an accommodation -- and despite the cozy overtures of the past week, at best an uneasy peace will reign at the top of the new Republican era.

These are different men, separated by region, generation, perspective, ambition, traditions and style. They don't like each other. On good days they respect each other, as a python and a puma respect each other.

The senator lives for today, the future speaker for the day after tomorrow. Mr. Dole has a genius for understanding where the crowd is moving, Mr. Gingrich a sixth sense for where the crowd might be led, someday, somehow. Mr. Dole shares the instincts of grain farmers and small-time oil producers, Mr. Gingrich is animated by the impulses of the edge city, the mall, the suburban office complex.

The senator, -- crippled by a war injury, full of grit and steely courage -- would be an inspiration for Eugene O'Neill, the American dramatist. The representative -- intellectual, theoretical -- would be an inspiration for Russell Kirk, one of the founding fathers of modern conservatism.

The Heir vs. Eminence Grise

Dole believes he's the rightful heir of Republicanism's crown, Mr. Gingrich sees himself as the philosopher king of a brave new world of conservatism. Mr. Dole carries an inner anger; it was nurtured, perhaps, by the experience of leaving Russell, Kansas, for war as an angular, athletic boy and returning unable to control his legs or even his bladder, and then fighting back, step by agonizing step. Mr. Gingrich has a withering temper; it is the product, perhaps, of the lethal mix of impatience and intelligence.

Mr. Dole talks politics, Mr. Gingrich philosophy. Mr. Dole can never fully leave the 10th Mountain Division and the battle for Italy, Mr. Gingrich speaks easily of Star Wars, death rays and ''brilliant pebbles.''

And yet both are miscast. Senator Dole, droll, deliberate and tactical, has the temperament of a lawmaker, and yet he thirsts for the presidency. Representative Gingrich, intoxicating in his sweep and powerful in his rhetoric, has the broad vision of the presidency, and yet he has hungered for the speakership. Now their twin ambitions will be played out on center stage or, perhaps more appropriately, on stage right. So, too, will their rivalries and resentments.

There is enough television time for both of them, but still they may struggle. There are enough perks and patronage for both of them, but still they may watch each other. Just as Hillary and Bill Clinton will not soon forget that Mr. Gingrich called them ''counterculture McGoverniks'' on the very day he was talking conciliation with the White House, Senator Dole has not forgotten that Mr. Gingrich once called him the ''tax collector for the welfare state.''

Senate vs. House

Mr. Dole served in the House, but he worships the Senate, understands its folkways, luxuriates in its idiosyncrasies. Mr. Gingrich is a creature of the House, and he shares the view of one of his predecessors as Republican speaker, Thomas Reed of Maine, who used to call the Senate ''a place where good representatives go where they die'' and ''a close communion of old grannies and tabby cats.''

But Mr. Gingrich is a product of a historical peculiarity in the House, a member of a party that was in the minority for four decades. In the final years in the wilderness he discovered the uses to which near-permanent minority status could be put. He could still speak on the floor. He could use the chamber as a staging area for guerrilla raids on the Democrats. He could speak without fear of ever seeing his legislation winning approval; indeed, in 16 years in the House he has never written a law.

''Newt had one major advantage: the luxury of irrelevance, and ++ he's lost it,'' says Democratic Rep. Barney Frank.

And so into the future, if not exactly arm in arm, stride Messrs. Dole and Gingrich. This will not be the Ev and Charlie show, where Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois and Rep. Charles Halleck of Indiana used to appear together before the Capitol press corps, casting, as Dirksen liked to say, artificial pearls before real swine. Of course Dirksen liked to needle Lyndon Johnson, and Halleck had a mean streak, but overall the two -- though, pointedly, never in the majority -- were kinder, gentler Republicans than Messrs. Dole and Gingrich.

In their struggles, one element above all remains to be resolved: Which one gets to play bad cop?

David Shribman is Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe.

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