It is everywhere true that no good deed goes unpunished. But, in Washington, cynicism now runs so deep that on the relatively few occasions when we see a selfless act, it never goes unanalyzed unless the proper ulterior motives are assigned.
The verdict of quite a few commentators and others among the opinionated classes is that Bob Dole's $300,000 loan to House Speaker Newt Gingrich so that he can pay a fine assessed by the House Ethics Committee is not what it appears. Since Mr. Dole has been recently hired by a law firm whose clients include members of the tobacco industry, some surmise he is shilling for big tobacco, which is trying to win favors in the midst of the worst publicity and greatest legal vulnerability it has ever experienced.
Others say Mr. Dole is trying to position his wife to run for president in three years and getting the Speaker on his side will help. Still others speculate that Mr. Dole is trying to buy some influence for himself following his loss in the 1996 campaign and that lending the Speaker money will ingratiate him with fellow Republicans who might still be lamenting his lackluster campaign performance.
There is one other option that no one seems to be considering: Mr. Dole thought helping a fellow Republican in trouble would be the right and decent thing to do.
To those of Mr. Dole's generation, this is perfectly normal. It is honorable. No medals are expected. It is the equivalent of doing one's duty, something the men and women of Mr. Dole's generation did with some regularity, but which those who followed seem to do less frequently, if at all. When they do, they issue a press release, expecting public praise and a spot on Time magazine's list of Most Influential People.
Selflessness in the age of press agents and large egos is difficult to recognize because it is so rarely seen. And when it is seen, it is often slandered lest it catch on and indict those who prefer the placement of themselves in front of others. Sure, Mr. Dole has the money to lend Mr. Gingrich, but if he lacked the will, what difference would it make?
There is a reason it is more blessed to give than to receive. The receiver eventually spends his gift. For the giver, the dividends keep returning in the form of uncounted blessings. He also becomes an example for others to go and do likewise.
Mssrs. Dole and Gingrich now have a new relationship that transcends politics. Out of that relationship will come things unrelated to policy and power. The poet Longfellow sensed what benefits come from such selflessness, not only to the players, but to the wider populace: "Whene'er a noble deed is wrought,/Whene'er is spoken a noble thought,/Our hearts in glad surprise,/ To higher levels rise."
I saw Bob and Elizabeth Dole in church last Sunday. The lesson was from Philippians 4, which contains these verses: "Let your gentleness be evident to all. whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable . think about such things [and] . put it into practice."
That's what Mr. Dole did when he agreed to lend Mr. Gingrich $300,000 to pay his fine. He put nobleness into practice. That the act caused so much of a ruckus in some quarters says something important about the state of our nation.
copyright 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate