Bob Dole, 1923-2021
The longtime Senator and Vice Presidential and Presidential nominee is gone at 98.
NYT (“Bob Dole, Old Soldier and Stalwart of the Senate, Dies at 98“):
Bob Dole, the plain-spoken son of the prairie who overcame Dust Bowl deprivation in Kansas and grievous battle wounds in Italy to become the Senate majority leader and the last of the World War II generation to win his party’s nomination for president, died on Sunday. He was 98.
A Republican, Mr. Dole was one of the most durable political figures in the last decades of the last century. He was nominated for vice president in 1976 and then for president a full 20 years later. He spent a quarter-century in the Senate, where he was his party’s longest-serving leader until Mitch McConnell of Kentucky surpassed that record in June 2018.
President Biden called Mr. Dole “an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation.” He added, “To me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves.”
As the old soldiers of World War II faded away, Mr. Dole, who had been a lieutenant in the Army’s storied 10th Mountain Division and was wounded so severely on a battlefield that he was left for dead, came to personify the resilience of his generation. In his post-political career, he devoted himself to raising money for the World War II Memorial in Washington and spent weekends there welcoming visiting veterans.
In one of his last public appearances, in December 2018, he joined the line at the Capitol Rotunda where the body of former President George H.W. Bush, an erstwhile political rival and fellow veteran, lay in state. As an aide helped him up from his wheelchair, Mr. Dole, using his left hand because his right had been rendered useless by the war, saluted the flag-draped coffin of the last president to have served in World War II.
Politically, Mr. Dole was a man for all seasons, surviving for more than three decades in his party’s upper echelons, even though he was sometimes at odds ideologically with other Republican leaders.
He was national Republican chairman under President Richard M. Nixon in the early 1970s; the running mate to President Gerald R. Ford in 1976; chairman of the Senate Finance Committee during Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s; and presidential standard-bearer during Newt Gingrich’s “revolution” of the mid-1990s, when the Republicans captured the House for the first time in 40 years and upended the power dynamic on Capitol Hill.
More recently, Mr. Dole, almost alone among his party’s old guard, endorsed Donald J. Trump for president in 2016, after his preferred candidates had fallen by the wayside. On the eve of his 93rd birthday, he was the only previous Republican presidential nominee to appear at the party’s convention in Cleveland, where Mr. Trump was nominated.
Mr. Dole himself ran three times for the White House and finally won the nomination in 1996, only to lose to President Bill Clinton after a historically disastrous campaign. He had given up his secure post in the Senate to pursue the presidency, although, as he acknowledged, he was more suited to the Senate.
As the Republican leader, he helped broker compromises that shaped much of the nation’s domestic and foreign policies.
WaPo (“Robert J. Dole, longtime GOP leader who sought presidency 3 times, dies at 98“):
Former U.S. senator Robert J. Dole, who overcame the hardships of dust bowl Kansas during the Depression and devastating injuries in World War II to run three times for the presidency and serve more than a decade as the Senate Republican leader, died Dec. 5 at 98.
Mr. Dole’s life was a trajectory played out against nine decades of America’s political, economic and cultural transformations, from his birth in a one-bedroom house to a career that lasted more than a third of a century under the Capitol dome, where he was presented the Congressional Gold Medal in 2018.
Arriving in Washington a few months shy of his 38th birthday, a House backbencher from Kansas among the minority Republicans, he methodically climbed the Washington ladder, possessed of a talent for counting votes and finding the sort of consensus rarely achieved today.
His rise paralleled a personal evolution from abrasive partisan to a more statesmanlike role in which he worked across party lines to forge compromise, whether bailing out the Social Security system or recommending an overhaul of long-term care for wounded veterans.
Mr. Dole was often critical of the Republican Party after leaving office, telling audiences that it had become too conservative, with far-right positions that recalled those of his former rival Patrick J. Buchanan. But he remained loyal to the party and, in 2016, became the only former GOP presidential candidate to endorse Donald Trump, whose campaign advisers included former Dole lieutenants such as Paul Manafort.
Despite the harsh turn his party took under Trump, he said in an interview in July with USA Today that he regretted the former president’s loss in November but broke with him over claims of election fraud and was “sort of Trumped out.”
Kansas City Star (“Bob Dole — war hero, senator, presidential candidate, Kansan — dies at 98“):
Bob Dole, a son of the Kansas Dust Bowl who survived a crippling barrage of Nazi fire on an Italian hillside to lead his party in the U.S. Senate, but who fell short of his highest ambition, the presidency, died Sunday. He was 98.
Proud, uncommonly driven and possessed of a dark, self-effacing wit, Dole went to Washington a rock-hard Great Plains conservative but evolved into a pragmatic master of legislative compromise. He voted against Medicare as a young House member in the 1960s but worked with Democratic Sen. George McGovern a decade later to protect food stamps. He was a driving force behind the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which required businesses and institutions to be more accessible to the disabled.
After politics, his elder statesman persona and comedic sense made him a celebrity. He joined former President Bill Clinton in regular face-offs on “60 Minutes,” became a spokesman for Viagra and appeared with Britney Spears in a Pepsi ad.
TNR’s Eric Garcia exclaims that “Bob Dole’s Disability Rights Legacy Marked the End of a Bipartisan Era.”
In 1969, Bob Dole gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor on a topic about which he was intimately acquainted. From the moment he lost the use of his right arm and the feeling in his left, in Italy as a soldier in World War II, the challenges of a world not built for disabled people animated both Dole’s life and his political persona: Journalists familiarized readers with his trademarked strategies, from holding a pen in his right hand to keep his fingers from splaying, to wearing loafers since he couldn’t tie his shoes. More importantly, the impact of it on his life shaped his ideas and played a role in his own determinations about who he hired.
In that first address to the Senate, Dole told the story of a man who became a paraplegic and was referred to the state-federal vocational rehabilitation office, which enabled him to get a job as an insurance agent, have a new home, and adopt a child. “It takes place now because the Congress and the federal government initiated and guided a vital, vigorous program of vocational rehabilitation,” he said.
Dole’s praise of a federal government program was surprising given Dole’s role as a Republican “hatchet man.” At different points, Dole served as Republican National Committee Chairman under Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976, Senate Majority Leader; and thrice as presidential candidate, his last foray coming in 1996 as the GOP standard-bearer who could not prevent Bill Clinton’s re-election.
Dole’s passing on Sunday has allowed Washington, D.C. to engage in one of its favorite activities—reminiscing on the days when bipartisanship reigned; the ADA looms large as a prime example. But it also forces a round of uncomfortable questions, regarding the way the Republican Party has strayed from Dole’s heyday, abandoning the positions on disability rights they once proudly defended.
“The history of the Republican writ large in the area of civil rights up until recently, there’s been a strong and sustained advocacy for civil rights,” said Tom Ridge, who was a Republican congressman at the time of the ADA’s passage and is now chairman of the National Organization on Disability. Ridge’s words about the decline of bipartisanship on disability aren’t empty “Party of Lincoln” platitudes; Dole voted for the Civil Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act; he brokered a compromise that helped extend the Voting Rights Act in 1982 with future ADA collaborator Kennedy.
“Regrettably, there hasn’t been as strong a champion within the Republican Party since he left the Congress,” said Ridge.
That Dole lent his support to Trump toward the end isn’t much of a stain on his record. I’m not sure that it much mattered and, frankly, the man was in his late 90s. It was a hell of a life.