Alan Dixon, former Democratic senator, recalls friendlier times with GOP

October 9, 2013
Former Sen. Alan Dixon greets guests at the Monocle. (Roxanne Roberts / The Washington Post)
Former Sen. Alan Dixon greets guests at the Monocle. (Roxanne Roberts / The Washington Post)

Remember Sen. Alan Dixon? Good ol’ “Al the Pal,” the go-along-to-get-along Democrat during the Reagan era? No? Aw, it’s all right: It’s been 20 years since Dixon left Washington to go home and practice law after a dozen mild-impact years on the Hill.

But he’s back! With a book, “The Gentleman From Illinois: Stories From Forty Years of Elective Public Service.” And he’s here to help us in fiercely partisan times.

“I love you all, and you’re all my friends,” the 86-year-old told the crowd at his book party Tuesday at the Monocle. “What this country needs now is more friends on the Hill working together and talking together, and working for solutions that will serve the interest of the public.”

During his 1981-93 terms, Dixon drank beers with Ronald Reagan, Trent Lott and other Republicans; admired Dan Quayle’s golf swing; and managed to stay in good graces with Democratic colleagues. “Generally speaking, my political career was built on goodwill and accommodation,” he writes.

A pretty good trick — until the contentious Clarence Thomas hearings, when Dixon voted to confirm, ticking off some home-state Dems; he was swiftly defeated in the 1992 primary by Carol Moseley Braun.

Dixon, center with Sens, Robert Byrd and Richard Lugar in 1989. (John Duricka / AP)
Dixon, center with Sens, Robert Byrd and Richard Lugar in 1989. (John Duricka / AP)

If there were ever any bad feelings on the Hill, they’re long since gone.“He was great!” enthused Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), one of many old-timers who crowded the back room of the Hill hangout. “Always with a smile, always upbeat. What do the French call it? Joie de vivre.” From the other side of the aisle, former GOP minority leader Bob Michel, 90, also paid his respects.

Anything we can learn from Dixon’s cross-aisle spirit, Steny Hoyer? While stipulating that everyone should try to work together, yada yada, the minority whip maintained that “the environment has deteriorated substantially. The Senate that Alan Dixon served in was a much more collegial institution.”

Neil Young and Willie Nelson, left, meeting with Sens. Mark Andrews Patrick Leahy, and Alan Dixon, in 1985. (Scott Stewart / AP)
Neil Young and Willie Nelson, left, meeting with Sens. Mark Andrews Patrick Leahy, and Alan Dixon, in 1985. (Scott Stewart / AP)

Book highlights? Dixon recalls the time a young Republican operative got hold of letterhead for his 1970 state treasurer campaign — and printed invitations to a fundraiser promising free beer and food, which were distributed in Chicago’s toughest hoods. Thirty years later, that kid, Karl Rove, apologized. Dixon insists he found it all pretty funny.

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