WASHINGTON — Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, disagreeing sharply with Vice President George Bush, has blasted the Iranian arms sale as contrary to American principles and declared that Lt. Col. Oliver L. North is no hero.
Bush supported President Reagan's covert plan of selling arms to Iran in exchange for American hostages held in Lebanon. And the vice president has hailed North, who has admitted lying to Congress and destroying official records in an effort to conceal his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, as someone who will go down in history as a hero.
Dole, in a television interview with British journalist David Frost, to be broadcast nationwide on Sunday, said the Iranian arms sale "runs against the grain of everything we stand for in America."
When pressed on whom he blames for "the whole Iran-Contra mess," Dole pointed out that Reagan had accepted responsibility for it and said the President "gets a little of that . . . . Everybody around him gets a little of that."
History will regard North as a patriot with an exemplary record, Dole said, but as an agent for Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair the Marine officer "overstepped his bounds," did not serve the President well and "is not a hero in that regard."
In a program broadcast on Dec. 6, Bush told Frost that North did a better job even "than our great communicator of a President" in expressing what was at stake in Central America during the Iran-Contra hearings and that "the American people in every bar in Chicago and every bowling alley in Texas and every little home said: 'Hey, this guy believes in something, and I can identify with it.' "
Public opinion polls show Bush with a substantial lead in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, with Dole holding a firm grip on second place and the other four candidates trailing far behind.
Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, who resigned as Reagan's transportation secretary to campaign for her husband, both were interviewed by Frost for the hourlong program. It is the sixth of a 13-part series, called "The Next President," which features interviews with presidential candidates and their wives and is co-produced by Frost and U.S. News & World Report.
The senator said it is possible that his wife, a former Federal Trade Commission member and presidential assistant who has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for vice president, will be selected as a running mate for the Republican presidential nominee.
Although there is "some interest" in her being on the ticket, he said, it "probably is not going to happen unless she is on the ticket with someone else. Now that could happen."
The senator, who has frequently drawn attention to Bush's prep school and country club background, described his own working-class upbringing in Russell, Kan., in the Frost interview and said the Republican Party needs to reach out to "hard-working, real people" to dispel its image as a party of the privileged.
As the older brother of his family, Dole said, he handed down his clothes to his brother, Kenny, and his sister Gloria handed down her clothes to her younger sister, Norma Jean.
"There weren't a lot of wealthy families in our little hometown," he said. "My father wore overalls every day to work. So we . . . certainly didn't have much money, but I remember my dad had an old car called a Whippet, which is quite an automobile."
With other young boys in Russell, he said, he "raked the leaves and mowed the lawns and delivered handbills and newspapers and sacked groceries and worked in my father's cream and egg station."
In recalling the eight years he served as county attorney while still a young man in Russell, Dole said that every month he had to approve welfare claims and every month he found his grandparents on the welfare list.
"And you know," said Dole, who frequently stresses the need for government assistance to the disadvantaged, "they weren't lazy, but they were poor and they were old. And they'd been farmers. And I think that's another dimension. Seems to me leadership is about a lot of things.
"But it's got to stem from who you are and where you're from and all those things. I mean, your own life is the key to whatever you're going to do later on."
Dole said he went through a "fairly dark" period right after Jimmy Carter defeated then-President Gerald R. Ford in the 1976 election. As Ford's running mate, Dole made several harsh attacks on the Carter-Mondale ticket that some political observers thought were counterproductive and may have even cost Ford the election.
"But I remember Richard Nixon calling me the day after the election and saying: 'Now, Bob, get ready. Somebody is going to be looking for a scapegoat,' " Dole said. "They are going to be saying Ronald Reagan didn't work hard enough, Nelson Rockefeller didn't work enough, Bob Dole didn't work hard enough, Jerry Ford made the gaffe about Poland. So I was already prepared."