Bob Dole, who overcame severe World War II wounds to lead the Senate GOP and became a party nominee for president died on Sunday at the age of 98.
Dole was a consummate politician and can be correctly termed a workhorse for the GOP in the decades when politicians also knew governing, itself, must be their first calling. He could be cranky and dutiful all in the same breath.
Dole’s peak as a party elder came in 1996 when he finally achieved his goal to be party nominee, and challenged incumbent Bill Clinton for the presidency. That grand chapter on the national stage, though not victorious, was an honorable one. In politics, that last point matters.
Dole and a wide swath of elected officials came to power after WWII with a grasp of how fragile not only life can be, but also democracy. They often had strong differences about the shaping of policy and the direction of the issues that made for headlines, but they seemed most surefooted about the reason the government must work for the greater good. It is impossible to see Majority Leader Dole stride down the Senate aisle and countenance the behavior and breakdown for respect and reason that has consumed today’s Republican Party.
I was able to witness the body language of Senator Bob Dole in 1988 as he made a stop at the Wisconsin State Capitol. I noted that event in my book Walking Up The Ramp.
The other Republican who I met when he came to Madison, a city that is not fertile ground for conservatives, was Senator Bob Dole. He visited the Capitol on behalf of the state party.
I was working in the office, and a buddy on the other side of the aisle knew when the Senator’s SUV was going to wind its way up one of the circled drives of the Capitol, and drop him off. I made my way to the designated area, and stood outside with a mere handful of people as two vehicles came up the drive. With a dark suit and a rather serious exterior he exited his vehicle and with his left hand, met those who wished to say hello.
As always the pen he held in his crippled hand was meant to deflect the fact that he was an injured veteran. Dole seemed thinner in real life, but there was firmness to his footsteps and sureness to the gait of his walk as he entered the building that conveyed to me there was no doubt he was a political leader. He projected the aura of someone who needed to be reckoned with, and that is a most important first impression any politician wants to impart.
I suspect there are many in the country today who are wistful for the tone and times when Dole was using his power in Washington. They were not times free of passion over the path forward in the nation, but I do not recall ever wondering if the adults were in charge. Dole just knew his first job was to make sure the trains ran on time, and if that helped his political mission, great. But governing meant something to Dole, that reached above mere politics.
Bob Dole appeared on David Letterman’s show three days after losing in 1996 and was most gracious in defeat. If one moment shines, in retrospect, it is the four minutes below.
The following account says it all for this post.
“One of the stories Bob Dole likes to tell in speeches and interviews had to do with the events in the first two weeks of 1983 when, quite literally, the Social Security system was saved. The only part of the tale he leaves out is his own role. It could not have happened without him. To the contrary, he made it happen. I was there. I so attest.”…….Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) in a farewell tribute to Dole on June 11, 1996; Bob Dole: A Pictorial Biography of a Kansan, p. 102.
We can learn a lot about public service and even modesty if we follow the decades that Bob Dole was a fixture in American politics. His kind, sadly, seems fewer in number today.
And so it goes.