Bob Dole’s unending service to veterans: a life in quotes

The news of Bob Dole’s death on Christmas Day after a short but valiant fight with cancer shocked all Americans. He was an extremely popular politician and, having finished a tough re-election race as…

Bob Dole's unending service to veterans: a life in quotes

The news of Bob Dole’s death on Christmas Day after a short but valiant fight with cancer shocked all Americans. He was an extremely popular politician and, having finished a tough re-election race as Senate majority leader in 1996, he was considered a possible candidate for the White House in 1996. Many veterans and war record protesters strongly opposed his appointment to that of Bush administration chief, and so it was that he went on record as the only presidential contender to say what he actually thought.

Although he came from a midwestern stock, in “the heartland”, a previously isolated prejudice made him stand out as a radical. Having come out of his bitter campaign in 1952 as a lonely, lonely and lonely candidate, Dole seemed probably the most popular GOP star ever.

His opponent in 1952 for the Republican presidential nomination was Senator Estes Kefauver, the son of an African American World War II veteran who had been one of the first Southerners to embrace the civil rights movement. Dole, a graduate of Kansas State University, had been chairman of the state Senate Republican caucus in 1952 and 1952, and it was no surprise when his campaign was overshadowed by Kefauver’s. Despite his historical fame (we seldom write about heroes) and a broad public appeal, Dole only ended up winning just 18% of the overall popular vote, and not even in the top 10 of a first-choice list prepared by an army of college students on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles.

At Dole’s election as Senate majority leader in 1996, one of the first things he did was lead the battle against Republicans who wanted to tie his hands during his testimony before the Watergate grand jury. Within a month, he was also forced to resign the Republican nomination for President after a bitter nomination fight against Lamar Alexander. How Dole felt about the disgrace of it all will be the subject of his forthcoming autobiography.

Many veterans especially admire Dole because he suffered from a skin condition called ichthyosis, which does not allow them to tan and is so visible that it often leads the paper-white whites of his skin to turn a dark brown. His long hair and Fair Isle sweaters and habit of holding a plough horn in front of him made it easy to get mistaken for a Presbyterian minister and sometimes he was even compared with “the Great Whiteman”, Norman Scruggs, the cowboy preacher whose public appearances in Texas caused the endangered Western Creeks to flood as he made them his sacred grazing grounds.

But for the 1.5 million men and women who served in the armed forces of the United States in the second world war, Dole was simply their flag-waving hero. He and his staff kept receiving letters from veterans who had served in Europe and at Dunkirk or on Pacific islands waiting for him to take the country to war or restore the respect he had earned. He voted for, indeed supported, every US military commitment, usually one after another, to put down tyranny and insure the free flow of human and economic capital throughout the world.

There will be some thoughts on YouTube of the Republican Party and George W Bush but Bob Dole himself will be more given to a mournful eulogy. Bush was not a Bob Dole fan (he criticized Dole on the Iraq invasion and a former defence secretary once labelled Dole and two other Republican senators “not serious people”), and even some of his admirers were reluctant to hear Dole praise Bush.

But many of them admired Dole’s bravery and strength during his battle with cancer. He had said he would fight for an eight-year break from cancer until he could celebrate the return of “the Willie Horton” statement by his presidential rival Michael Dukakis but he and his wife suffered an extra blow on Christmas Day when daughter Elizabeth, who had recently had a major stroke, died.

What is clear is that, when people were so thin on the ground, Dole was the reluctant spokesman for a humanistic, anti-war Republican Party, and if he had never been elected to the White House (he did not want to be), I am sure the Republican Party would still honour him, and the entire country could be grateful.

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