For the first time, there's nothing to do

November 07, 1996|By Ellen Goodman

BOB DOLE NEVER convinced voters that he wanted something more profound than a personal trophy. At times it was painful to watch this respected elder strip himself of so much -- his reserve, his old beliefs, his sense of privacy and humor -- for his ambition.

Ex-candidates, like ex-presidents of countries and companies, says Jeff Sonnenfeld, director of Emory's CEO College and author of ''The Hero's Farewell,'' lead a life of action. The CEO in unwilled retirement, the political lion in winter, faces ''the trauma of a lot of time, the abyss of insignificance.'' Often, they go through the stages of grief, from denial -- ''I'm busier than ever'' -- to eventually, possibly, acceptance.

There is no role model for ex-politicians, candidates or presidents. Each man makes his own life.

It took a despairing Jimmy Carter nearly two years in Georgia, doing carpentry for therapy, wrestling with Rosalynn over their memoirs, before beginning a commitment to mediation. A restless LBJ, cut off from the life that energized him, was miserable writing and ran the ranch as if it were the nation. After the darkest days, Richard Nixon set about methodically and relentlessly to restore his reputation by delving into international affairs.

But some, says Mr. Sonnenfeld, are like orchestra leaders without an orchestra.

What will happen to a man like Mr. Dole for whom the Senate has been the center of life, a man without hobbies or much love of introspection? A man who is, for the first time in a half-century, neither a candidate nor an elected official?

When the angry campaign words dull and the attacks fade into memory, there may well be a bipartisan role for a man who once wrestled senators into agreement. The president who finished his own final campaign Tuesday may see to that.

But today, ''for the first time in my life I have nothing to do.'' In the full glare of the public eye, Bob Dole rolled the dice in the high-risk game called ''the White House or home.'' Suddenly there is poignancy in the word ''home.''

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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