The death of Robert Joseph Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential candidate and a leading figure in American politics for more than a third of a century.
Dole, who discovered in early 2021 that he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, passed away on Sunday, according to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. He was 98.
American culture has not served as a purer emblem of the nation’s victories and challenges in the postwar period than Dole, son of the center of the country, a mid-century disabled war veteran, and the leader of the political dramas that played out. at the heart of American national life.
He was a state legislator, member of the House of Representatives, leader of the Senate, a national spokesman for the staunch conservatism of common sense, a four-time nominee for national office, and has always been an advocate for farmers and war veterans.
He dominated Senate life for ten years, was a leading Republican in Washington, and became a powerful symbol not only for Democrats, who ridiculed him as an obstructionist, but also for a new generation of Republicans who found his style too compliant. his ideology is too soft and his identification with the Washington establishment is too strong.
Yet no Republican other than Richard M. Nixon has been in downtown Washington and the fierce battles within the Republican Party for so long and with so much influence.
It was a blow that outlived his own retirement; he worked tirelessly to elect his wife, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, to the Senate in 2002 and joked that he and Bill Clinton, his 1996 rival, would compete to be president of the Senate Consorts Club.
A heartbreaking code for his public life, 89-year-old Dole, a wheelchair user, returned to the Senate in December 2012 and called on his former colleagues to ratify the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, based on the legislation he drafted. himself in the cell. The agreement did not materialize, and Dole’s wife took Dole out of the cell.
Dole lost the 1996 presidential race to Clinton despite an energetic challenge, a series of daring gambling and a daring campaign finale of 96 hours of grueling air flight that left Kanzan hoarse and exhausted, but failed to convince voters that the 73-year-old The WWII veteran was the man who took the country into the 21st century.
In many ways, Dole’s general election campaign was a hindrance to the greatest dramatic events of his life. For years he was denied his party’s nomination for the presidency, and won it in 1996 only after a hard fight against two opponents whose vision of the Republican Party and its future could not be more different from his – publisher Malcolm S. ” Steve”. Forbes Jr. and commentator Patrick J. Buchanan.
But Dole, who for decades prided himself on understanding the prevailing winds of American politics, was nevertheless ready to give in, and on the eve of the 1996 Republican convention turned to former rival Jack F. Kemp, offering him vice. -presidential appointment and acceptance of his ideas about the economics of the proposal. Six months after his defeat, he struck Washington with another gesture to his party rival, offering Newt Gingrich a $ 300,000 loan so that the Speaker of the House of Representatives could pay an ethics investigation fine.
As he grows older, his impulse for political fist play has faded, allowing him to bond dearly with his rival George W. Bush; In their 90s, they called each other on their birthdays and, to celebrate Pearl Harbor’s 75th anniversary, appeared together in 2016 at a Texas event commemorating the terrorist attack that sparked the U.S. conflict with Japan in World War II.
On the same day, December 2016, news reports reported that Dole, the only living GOP candidate to support Donald Trump as president, helped a client by arranging a phone call between Trump and the President of Taiwan – an intervention that prompted some of those who knew Dole wondered if he was being manipulated at 93 by friends or business associates.
Dole came to Washington on the year of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration as president, but as a young man had strong emotional ties with Dwight D. Eisenhower, a fellow Kansas commander and commander of the American forces in Europe that shaped Dole’s life.
He got into the political circle around Nixon and was the national chairman of the Republican Party at the height of the Watergate scandal. He was Gerald R. Ford’s presidential candidate in 1976 when he first gave the people a taste of his sometimes harsh rhetoric, calling the four wars of the 20th century “the wars of the Democrats.” Four years later, he ran against Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination, finished last on the list, but served as legislative leader for the president for two terms.
Dole was the favorite for the Republican nomination for a while in 1988 and actually won the Iowa caucuses in February, but his fight against George W. Bush took a bitter tone, and his eventual loss became a symbol of Dole’s failure as a national candidate – his candidacy. … lack of vision, his reflexive impulse to use his wit as a weapon.
Despite his middle-aged rivalry with Bush, he later served the president loyally, acting as his agent on Capitol Hill. He was so dominant in Congress that although he was well over 70 and his generation overshadowed Clinton and the Baby Boomers during World War II, Dole quickly became the leader in the 1996 Republican presidential nomination.
While Dole’s life was intertwined with leading figures in Washington’s post-war political establishment, his relationship with Gingrich shaped Gingrich politics at the turn of the century.
For years he and Gingrich argued – two symbols of rival and often conflicting Republican views. Gingrich was a proponent of a proposal, an economic theory that did not impress Dole, and a rebel, a political tactic that left Dole indifferent.
Bitterness often flared, and Dole responded for ten years to Gingrich’s hackneyed taunt that the kanzan was a tax collector for the welfare state. When Gingrich became speaker in 1995, Dole quelled his skepticism, perhaps because he admitted that Gingrich was now taking over Gingrich politics, and the two appeared frequently together, working in tandem.
Dole was the quintessential young man of innocent America before World War II. His worldview, his emphasis, his conservatism and his rhythms of life were set in Russell, Kansas, far from the American metropolis and deep in the grain country.
His father, Doran Dole, ran the White Front Café on Main Street, then ran a cream and egg store, and his mother, Bina, sold sewing machines, was an accomplished seamstress, and was known for her fried chicken, cream sauce and homemade ice. cream.
“Russell is the same as Bob Dole,” John J. Streck, one of Dole’s classmates, once said. As a young man, Dole played basketball and took care of the soda fountain at Dawson’s Drug. He was chosen to play the jerk because he was smart, efficient, and honest.
“He was an all-American boy,” said Everett Damler, a longtime friend who later became the manager of the small-town chamber of commerce.
Like many young people in the city, he went to war. He saw a little of the world and then completely changed his world. In the final weeks of World War II in Italy, an exploding shell hit him so hard in the body that a platoon sergeant injected him with morphine on the battlefield.
Then the months and years of recovery began. He had a persistent fever, lost a kidney, and lost 72 pounds. He also lost, as he later admitted, all of his physical stamina. His family doubted he would ever be able to walk again.
This was a more serious challenge than any presented by politics. He worked and he fought and he worked a little longer, eventually he could take a step, then a few, and then get to the end of the block. The injuries to his right hand remained for life, and it was so painful for him to shake hands in a public meeting that he squeezed the pen in his right hand to avoid formality.
“Most of my life since April 1945,” he wrote in his memoirs, “has been an attempt at compensation.”
Dole went to law school and went into politics, driving hundreds of miles in the race for legislatures, then thousands of miles in the 1960 congressional competition. He was not a big ideologue, joking that he looked at the polls, saw more Republicans than Democrats. and immediately decided that he was a Republican. For him, the arithmetic of politics has always been stronger than chemistry.
In Washington, he was a hard worker and conspirator, eventually getting notice and winning elections on multiple occasions. Since he succeeded Howard H. Baker, Jr. as leader of the Republican Party in 1985, his status in the Senate has been unattainable. Indeed, the Senate ordered Dole’s life. He was a master of legislation in the era of soundbeats, a master of compromise in an era when trying to cross the aisles was ridiculed.
Dole was known for his sarcastic side, but in the halls of the Capitol he was also remembered for his gentle gesture. Congress workers have always considered him their favorite senator. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity and, himself a prostate cancer survivor, sometimes sat in his office when darkness deepened around Washington and called people all over the country who were themselves facing prostate surgery or death.
An incredible continuation of his fight against cancer was Dole’s decision to star in a TV commercial for Viagra for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Dole said he was doing the ad to continue a frank conversation about the disease and its consequences.
Dole’s career arc was also shaped by women: his mother, who gave him a sense of humor; his sisters, who encouraged him when there was no cause for encouragement in the dark days of the war; his daughter Robin, a Washington lobbyist and grown-up friend; and the two women he married.
Dole met his 23-year-old wife, Phyllis, at a dance at the Army Hospital, and they were married three months later in New Hampshire. “I remember when we first got married, I made shoulder pads to fit under his shirt because one shoulder is shorter than the other,” she said. “He had to choose suits to match him. I cut his meat. I understood him physically and emotionally. He had to work terribly hard to recover from his injuries, and now it’s only part of him. He worked very hard to overcome all of this. “
He later married Elizabeth Hanford, a pioneering Republican who served as Secretary of Labor and Transportation and President of the American Red Cross, but was best known as the other half of the Washington DC couple. At a Capitol hearing, Dole once joked that he regretted having only one wife to give to his country. In truth, he was immensely proud of his wife’s achievements, and she of his; in the final days of the 1988 presidential race, Elizabeth Dole was outnumbered by her husband.
Dole is survived by his wife and daughter Robin from his first marriage.
Shribman is a special correspondent.