Bob Dole

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Bob Dole’s death at 98 brings to mind an iconic photograph of him at the funeral of George H. W. Bush in 2018.  Confined to a wheelchair, Dole nonetheless mustered up enough strength to stand at attention and salute Bush as Bush lay ins state.  And therein is a lesson.

Bob Dole, wounded and permanently disabled in World War 2, was first elected to public office—a seat in the Kansas state House of Representatives—in 1950.  His 46 years of continuous service culminated in 28 years in the U. S. Senate before his resignation in 1996 to run for president.  Throughout his career he sometimes projected the image of a hyper-partisan slasher.  He was known as “Nixon’s hatchet man” during Watergate before Nixon had him dismissed from the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee for being “too independent.”

But as Bob Dole matured and evolved, he more and more frequently showed himself to be a true conservative in the original, old-fashioned sense of the word.  He was not always a right-wing ideologue breathing fire and automatically spitting out the mantra that “the best government is the least government,” voting in lockstep to cut taxes no matter the impact of tax cuts on America’s fiscal health, or denouncing every idea he disagreed with as “socialistic.”  To the contrary, he frequently acted as if he was unconstrained by any particular ideology.  Rather, he used facts, reason, and compassion to do what he thought he was right, without regard to where his words and deeds placed him on the ideological spectrum.  To that end, while much of his voting record remained that of a fairly conventional Republican for his time, he became more and more noteworthy for two attributes—a willingness to work with Democrats on various issues, especially those related to promoting agriculture and fighting hunger in America, and the ability to separate the political from the personal, to see that one’s opponent on one issue could be a supporter on another, and therefore should never be demonized as an enemy.

Bob Dole’s ability to work on issues of common interest with people with whom he had disagreements on other issues, as well as the ability to see the humanity in others and thereby refrain from demonizing them, seem to be in shorter supply today among many of our leading politicians.  Too often we observe ideologues from both ends of the political spectrum taking irrational and intractable stands on various issues, more concerned with hawking their ideological purity than in actually getting anything done.  We read of—or see on TV or on the internet—crude videos made by those who fantasize of murdering others.  In congressional hearings we too frequently witness systematic character assassination campaigns, with Republicans being accused of being sexual perverts and Democrats being accused of Communism.  Bob Dole was above such tactics.  For too many of today’s Democratic and Republican politicians, such tactics are merely standard operating procedures.

Which brings us back to Dole, Bush 41, the wheelchair, and the funeral.  

Bob Dole pursued the presidency of the United States relentlessly.  Before winning the GOP nomination in 1996, he twice lost it.  After being the GOP’s vice-presidential running mate in 1976, he lost his 1980 presidential bid to Ronald Reagan.  Running again in 1988, he lost the New Hampshire primary to George H. W. Bush, after Bush pledged never to raise taxes if elected—a pledge Dole was unwilling to make.  When questioned by reporters about Bush in the 1988 campaign, Dole snapped that that they should “tell Bush to stop lying about my record!”  Yet such was Dole’s sense of duty and good will that he felt it necessary, despite his infirmities at the age of 96, to rise to attention and salute his longtime opponent.

George W. Bush, on learning of Bob Dole’s death, said, “I will always remember Bob’s salute to my late dad at the Capitol, and now we Bushes salute Bob and give thanks for his life of principled service.”

And so should we all.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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