Robert Dole, Republican senator, 1923-2021

If anyone embodied Washington’s politics in the second half of the 20th century – the good, the bad and the ugly – it was undoubtedly Robert Dole, a former Republican senator from Kansas who passed away at the age of 98.

He was his party’s candidate for president in 1996, for vice president 20 years earlier and ran twice in between, losing all four of his national office runs. In return, he was twice the majority leader in the Senate and for eight years ran the minority, as well as the chairman of the house’s finance committee. His hand is visible in countless laws, especially for the poor and the disabled. The World War II Memorial on the National Mall would not have been built without his efforts.

Without a doubt, he also has the sharpest tongue in the nation’s capital, a mix of belligerence and genuine humour. In 1976, he attacked the “Democratic wars” of the 20th century, stripping the opposition party’s two-letter suffix; Today, Republicans just refer to it as he did then. When asked later on, when asked to comment on former speaker Newt Gingrich’s lament that he did not understand why he attracted such “instant dislike”, Dole quipped: “It saves time”.

For all his reputation for unbridled partisanship, as a Vietnam War hawk, and his barbaric opposition to the Clinton administration’s health care reforms, he generally doesn’t represent represents a now-extinct species – the moderate Midwestern Republican. He supported most of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and built friendships along the political trails, an attribute necessary for cutting back and advancing the favored legislative negotiations. your. Proof of that was a visit to his home by President Joe Biden, a Senate colleague of more than 30 years, the day after he announced he had terminal cancer. Very little of that spirit survives to this day.

Robert Joseph Dole was born in Russell, Kansas, on July 22, 1923 and, although living primarily in Washington, maintained until his death the house he grew up in as his primary residence. His father ran an ice cream parlor but the family went through hard times during the recession. He was a star basketball and football player at the University of Kansas before the war called him into service. In 1945, while serving as an army lieutenant, he was fatally wounded by a German machine gun outside Bologna, rendering his right arm almost useless for the rest of his life.

Dole recovers from shrapnel wounds received while serving in Italy during the second world war in April 1945 © US Army/AP

After completing his studies at the University of Arizona and the George Washington University Law School in the capital, in 1952, he joined the Kansas state legislature and worked as a Russell County attorney for eight years. That led to a House seat in 1960 and a Senate seat eight years later.

After vice president Nelson Rockefeller withdrew from consideration, Gerald Ford selected Dole as moderator for the 1976 campaign, in which he stacked disadvantageously against Walter Mondale and the veteran, Jimmy Carter’s number two. The “Democrat wars” remark during their debate drew widespread criticism. He ran for the nomination four years later but soon withdrew due to poor preliminary results.

He ran harder in 1988 but a similar temper didn’t help. When asked on TV if he had anything to say to vice president George HW Bush, who just won the New Hampshire primaries with Dole coming in third, he snarled: Tell him not to lie about my achievements.” Although he won several Midwest primaries afterward, he never got the chance to participate.

In 1996, he began as a frontrunner in a diverse field of Republicans, including, to his right, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas; Pat Buchanan, polemicist; and Steve Forbes, publisher of the magazine; and to his left, Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania, who also grew up in Russell. Buchanan claimed an upset victory in the opening primaries in New Hampshire but after a lengthy and financially debilitating campaign, Dole prevailed, choosing Jack Kemp, congressman and former soccer star kick, do your operator. At the age of 73, he is the oldest person to be nominated as a candidate for the first term president.

But it’s always been an uphill struggle against Bill Clinton, the incumbent, who is famous for his strong economic growth, not to mention the populist billionaire Ross Perot’s candidacy, though he did less than half of it. he had four years before that. In desperation, Dole resigned from the Senate to focus on the campaign, but Clinton successfully tied him to Gingrich, whose federal government shutdown in late 1995 was largely unknown. come. At no point did the gap between them narrow and Clinton won 49-40% of the national vote, while Perot won just over 8%.

Then a Republican presidential candidate, Dole waved as he boarded his campaign minibus on February 3, 1988 after concluding his speech in Belmond, a small town. northern Iowa © Mike Sprague / AFP / Getty

He continued to be busy in retirement, as a television commentator, writing books and again working with former Senate opponent George McGovern, on issues of child malnutrition. But his coda on the Senate floor in late 2012 was a sad commentary on how times have changed. He was brought in to show symbolic support for the United Nations convention on persons with disabilities but the Senate voted against ratification on the grounds that it would violate American sovereignty. .

Dole was married twice, first to Phyllis Holden, with whom he had a daughter who divorced in 1972 (she died in 2008). In 1975, he married Elizabeth “Liddy” Hanford, a significant political figure in her right, later secretary of transportation and labor in the first Reagan and Bush administrations and a Republican senator. for North Carolina from 2003-08. Like her husband, she briefly ran for the Republican nomination in 2000. They formed Washington’s quintessential inner power couple and she survived him.

Her organization announced that Dole had passed away early Sunday morning in his sleep, noting that he had “faithfully served the United States of America for 79 years.”

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