Six Best Things About Bob Dole

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Bob Dole died today. The former Republican U.S. senator and three-time presidential candidate was 98.

Dole was no conservative. Newt Gingrich used to deride him as “tax collector for the welfare state.”

But Dole was a decent man with American values at his core.

Here are six of the best things about him:

 

1.  Appreciation For States’ Rights

Bob Dole may be the only federal politician ever to claim that he carried around with him a copy of the Tenth Amendment.

That’s one of the forgotten children from the Bill of Rights. It says that any powers “not delegated” to the federal government by the federal constitution nor prohibited to the states “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People.”

In other words:  The federal government is not supposed to be all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful. At the heart of the checks-and-balances system described by the United States Constitution is a tension not just among various branches of the federal government, but also between the federal government and the states.

Our country would be better off if states were more powerful than they are now and if the federal government were less powerful.

However he did or didn’t practice those principles, Dole at least articulated them.

 

2.  Skepticism Toward War

One obituary of Dole claimed that he committed a “gaffe” during a 1976 debate when he was the Republican nominee for vice president by referring to World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam as “all Democrat wars, all in this century.”

But Dole, who was grievously wounded during World War II and essentially lost the use of his right arm due to his injuries, understood better than most the horrors of war.

Here’s what Dole went on to say during that debate 45 years ago:  “I figured out the other day:  if we added up the killed and wounded, in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans. Enough to kill the city of Detroit.”

Dole later tried to walk back those words, as politicians do. But there’s something essentially correct in what he said.

It’s not necessary to engage in a long and precise debate about the various causes of World War II, for instance, to appreciate that the best wars are the ones we never fight.

 

3.  Not A Never-Trumper

In mid-2016, when many other establishment Republicans were headed for the tall grass, Bob Dole endorsed Donald Trump for president.

Dole argued that Trump needed to win for the good of the country, to keep Hillary Clinton from becoming president. He also thought Trump could do the job because “he’s kind of a deal-maker.”

Simple logic, that. Yet beyond the grasp of many a self-important GOP figure of national prominence.

 

4.  Never Giving Up

Dole didn’t have much of a shot in 1996. A burgeoning economy floated the boat of the incumbent president, whose most profound scandals were yet to come.

But Dole pulled out the stops that he could – resigning from the Senate mid-campaign and then going on a 30-city tour in four days to try to close the gap.

These efforts, of course, pale in comparison to his comeback from his World War II injuries, remaking himself from a near-death cripple to a lawyer and successful politician.

How affected was he by his war wounds?

It took Dole two hours to dress in the morning. He used to carry a pen in his right hand, so people wouldn’t try to shake it.

 

Bob Dole shakes hands with David Letterman in March 1995 — with his left hand. His right hand holds a pen.

 

5.  Sense of Humor

Bob Dole once claimed that Jack Kemp, an always-well-coiffed supply-side conservative, wanted “a business deduction for hairspray.”

During an appearance on Late Night With David Letterman in March 1995, Dole mentioned how he wrote a check for $250 as a donation for a jogging track at the White House for the benefit of then-president Bill Clinton because Dole “didn’t want him running out into the street, scaring people.”

“I gave him this check drawn on my own bank account, not something many Congressmen … do,” Dole said.

The night after he lost the presidential election to the incumbent in November 1996, Dole went back on Letterman’s show and had the crowd roaring. Among his lines:  “I had a question for the president. How about two out of three?”

 

6.  Generosity

Dole understandably had a soft spot in his heart for people who were grievously injured, which he demonstrated with quiet acts of kindness.

But he even acted kindly toward those with whom he had a difficult relationship.

Dole gave Newt Gingrich a loan of $300,000 in 1997 to help settle Gingrich’s ethics complaint in the United States House of Representatives – even though the two had often clashed.

In 1996, Dole turned to Jack Kemp, his frequent former antagonist, to be his running mate. It was a political calculation, certainly, but it also suggested, as syndicated columnist Robert Novak said at the time, “Bob Dole’s largeness of spirit.”

 

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