When Alan Dixon was in the Senate, he believed in bipartisanship. He liked the fact that, even though he was a Democrat, he had a good working relationship with President Ronald Reagan.
“Hell I could go see the president, and I would every now and again and talk,” Dixon said in an interview with political strategist Thom Serafin, connected to the release of his memoir, The Gentleman from Illinois. “President of the senate was a Republican and he was my friend. That was Bob Dole.
"Bob Dole used me to get things he wanted from Danny Rostenkowski who would tell Dole no way. I'd go see Danny and say if you give Dole something, he’ll give you something. And then he’d ask ‘well what does he want?’ And I’d tell him, you know, he wants $54 million for this, a hundred million for that and Rostenkowski would say oh okay; and he’d always come back the next day asking for more than Dole did -You got things done in those days. You can’t do anything now.
"Reagan or Bush, when I needed to talk to the President I'd go over and have a beer with those guys. They’re both good guys.”
It’s been said that the Washington era Dixon celebrates here -- an era when it was said that “politics ends at five o’clock” -- came to an end as the result of a Supreme Court nomination. The Senate’s rejection of Robert Bork in 1987 introduced the term “borking” into the political lexicon -- attacking a candidate’s character in order to defeat him politically. It also introduced bitterness between Republicans and Democrats that has become more and more intense over the past 25 years.
Dixon voted against Bork, but refused to participate in the effort to “bork” a subsequent Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. He was one of 11 Democrats to vote for Thomas’s confirmation.
“At the time it was actually a fact that others that ran my office all told me I had to vote against Clarence Thomas, “ Dixon said. “I said, ‘Listen, the president asked me to vote for him, I listened to all the hearings to see if he had any sexual relations with that woman and in my opinion he did not.’ I thought it was a he said she said thing. I said the guy was qualified and some people said I broke the tie. The vote was 52-48.”
The Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Carol Moseley Braun, was so appalled by Dixon’s vote that she ran a protest campaign against him in the Democratic primary. To everyone’s surprise -- including her own -- Moseley Braun won the election, and the seat.
“Of course I was beat because I voted for Clarence Thomas,” Dixon admits.
In his concession speech, reprinted in the book, Dixon said, “I spent a lifetime in Democratic politics. And I spent that lifetime in Democratic politics playing by the rules. And I said in this primary campaign that I would support the winner, I would endorse the winner, and I would vote for the winner. And now…I will vote for Carol Moseley Braun and I ask my friends and supporters…to do the same thing I will do.”
As that graciousness proves, Dixon’s defeat was not just the end of his career, but the end of an era in politics.