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Ultimately, the most surprising part of Bob Dole's career may be that he managed to keep Bill Clinton under 50% in the 1996 presidential election. After all, despite running in the age of Oprah, Mr. Dole was from a generation that was rather reticent about sharing the self with strangers and the one quality that really separated him from his peers, his sarcastic sense of humor, is one which makes people terribly uncomfortable. Where a politician like Bill Clinton calculated every statement and action for maximum appeal to voters, Mr. Dole often seemed to be almost challenging folks to like him. Indeed, one of the great oddities of his career is that it was two professional writers, neither of whom set out to do so, whobrought us closest to understanding him.
,br> Mr. Dole was never portrayed with greater insight and generosity than he was in the pages of Richard Ben Cramer's account of the 1988 presidential race, What It Takes. Mr. Cramer revealed, really for the first time, just how heroic Mr. Dole's recovery from the injuries he suffered in Italy in WWII was. He made it impossible not to admire the quiet and self-deprecatory manner in which Mr. Dole overcame the resulting disabilities and helped us to understand the edge of bitterness that occasionally crept into his public statements. The portrait was so compelling that the Dole sections of the larger book were later excerpted and issued as a quickie biography during the 1996 campaign. Mr. Cramer's role as semi-official biographer provided one of the most devastating moments of the Clinton presidency. Tim Russert had Cramer and David Maraniss (author of the outstanding Clinton bio, First in His Class) on Meet the Press to discuss the men they'd written about. At the end of the interview he asked Cramer : Is there anything about Bob Dole that you wish the voters knew, but don't?:
Cramer : Yes, that he is much nicer, funnier, more decent man than they perceive him to be. Unlike the caricature that comes across on television, Bob Dole genuinely cares about people.

Russert : Same question to you David Maraniss, about Bill Clinton.

Maraniss : Yes, that he's a much less decent man than they perceive him to be. Unlike the persona he presents on TV, Bill Clinton does not particularly care for other people ; he cares about himself.
That's not a verbatim transcript but it really was that harsh.

Oddly enough, in that 1996 campaign Mr. Dole finally found a way to talk about his inner self, but it was only by reciting words written for him by the novelist Mark Helprin, most famously when he resigned from the Senate:
And I'd just say, ladies and gentlemen, one of the qualities of American politics that distinguishes us from other nations is that we judge our politicians as much by the manner in which they leave office as by the vigor with which they pursue it. You do not lay claim to the office you hold, it lays claim to you. Your obligation is to bring to it the gifts you can of labor and honesty and then to depart with grace. And my time to leave this office has come, and I will seek the presidency with nothing to fall back on but the judgment of the people, and nowhere to go but the White House or home.

Six times - six times I've run for Republican leader of the United States Senate and six times my colleagues, giving me their trust, have elected me, and I'm proud of that.

So my campaign for the president is not merely about obtaining office. It's about fundamental things, consequential things, things that are real. My campaign is about telling the truth, it's about doing what is right, it's about electing a president who's not attracted to the glories of the office, but rather to its difficulties. It's about electing a president, who once he takes office, will keep his perspective and remain by his deepest nature and inclination one of the people.

Therefore, as the campaign for the president begins in earnest, it is my obligation to the Senate and to the people of America to leave behind all the trappings of power, all comfort and all security.

So today (Wednesday, May 15, 1996) I announce that I will forego the privileges not only of the office of the majority leader but of the United States Senate itself, from which I resign effective on or before June 11th. And I will then stand before you without office or authority, a private citizen, a Kansan, an American, just a man. But I will be the same man I was when I walked into the room, the same man I was yesterday and the day before, and a long time ago when I arose from my hospital bed and was permitted by the grace of God to walk again in the world. And I trust in the hard way, for little has come to me except in the hard way, which is good because we have a hard task ahead of us.
And then again in his acceptance speech at the Convention, the best part of which was largely contributed by Mr, Helprin:
And who am I that stands before you tonight?

I was born in Russell, Kansas, a small town in the middle of the prairie surrounded by wheat and oil wells. As my neighbors and friends from Russell, who tonight sit in front of this hall, know well, Russell, though not the West, looks out upon the West.

And like most small towns on the plains, it is a place where no one grows up without an intimate knowledge of distance.

And the first thing you learn on the prairie is the relative size of a man compared to the lay of the land. And under the immense sky where I was born and raised, a man is very small, and if he thinks otherwise, he is wrong. I come from good people, very good people, and I'm proud of it. My father's name was Doran and my mother's name was Bina. I loved them and there's no moment when my memory of them and my love for them does not overshadow anything I do -- even this, even here -- and there is no height to which I have risen that is high enough to allow me to allow me to forget them -- to allow me to forget where I came from, and where I stand and how I stand -- with my feet on the ground, just a man at the mercy of God.

And this perspective has been strengthened and solidified by a certain wisdom that I owe not to any achievement of my own, but to the gracious compensations of age.

Now I know that in some quarters I may not -- may be expected to run from this, the truth of this, but I was born in 1923, and facts are better than dreams and good presidents and good candidates don't run from the truth.

I do not need the presidency to make or refresh my soul. That false hope I will gladly leave to others. For greatness lies not in what office you hold, but on how honest you are in how you face adversity and in your willingness to stand fast in hard places.

Age has its advantages.

Let me be the bridge to an America than only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action.

And to those who say it was never so, that America's not been better, I say you're wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.
That newfound and only intermittent eloquence was not enough to help him defeat Bill Clinton. The third party candidacy of Ross Perot on his Right and the unprecedented peace and prosperity of the post-Cold War '90s saw to that. But it did begin to change the public perception of Bob Dole, such that after the election he was popular enough to become a tv pitch man and has emerged as a respected, if not quite beloved, elder statesman.

Here at last, in this memoir, Mr. Dole himself tells the story of his upbringing, of his war and of his recovery from devastating battle wounds. The story will be familiar to anyone who's read the Cramer book, but is well worth reading about again and it's fascinating to hear it in the Senator's own words. It's entirely characteristic that he takes the opportunity to thank those who helped him -- especially his parents, his first wife, and Dr. Hampar Kelikian -- rather than to toot his own horn. But, in the telling, you can't help but come to admire the man who overcame so much. As the colloquy cited above suggests, had people gotten to know the real Bob Dole earlier he might have realized his dream of becoming president. As is, he became a man to admire and one of the truly great legislators in American history--not a bad legacy.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Bob Dole Links:
    -Bob Dole's Official Website
    -Bob Dole (Wikipedia)
    -Robert J. Dole (Russell, KS)
    -DOLE, Robert Joseph - Biographical Information (
    -EXCERPT: from One Soldier's Story by Bob Dole
    -ESSAY: A unique case of obstruction (Bob Dole, 5/19/05, Washington Times)
    -ESSAY: Up, Down or Out (BOB DOLE, April 27, 2005, NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: "bob dole" (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: "bob dole" (Find Articles)
    -PROFILE: The Yuckster: Bob Dole, after politics (John J. Miller, 4/30/01, National Review)
    -PROFILE: THE COMMENTATOR: Dole Finding Winning Role As TV Pundit (KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, March 2, 2004, NY Times)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Bob Dole: 'One Soldier's Story' (Terry Gross, April 12, 2005, Fresh Air)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Bob Dole Reopens a Painful Chapter (Steve Inskeep, April 12, 2005, Morning Edition)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Bob Dole (Bill Thompson, Eye on Books)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Sen. Bob Dole: "One Soldier's Story" (Diane Rehm, 5/30/05)
    -PROFILE: REWRITING BOB DOLE: Novelist Mark Helprin talks about his fascination with war and death, his exile from the liberal literary establishment, and his greatest writing challenge -- making flatlander Bob into a figure of mythical stature. (MARK SCHAPIRO, 7/15/96, Salon)
    -ESSAY: What Voters Want: The Politics of Personal Connection (DAVID WINSTON, June/July 1999, Policy Review)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's Story: a memoir by Bob Dole (Aram Bakshian, Jr., Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's Story (Nancy Beardsley, VOA News)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's War (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's War (Judy Gigstad, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's War (John Hanna, AP)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's War (Gary Shapiro, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's War (Jason M. Breslow, Washingtonian)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's War (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of One Soldier's War (William Grimes, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Great Presidential Wit by Bob Dole (Celia S. McClinton, Pop Matters)
    -REVIEW: of THE DOLES: Unlimited Partners. By Bob Dole and Elizabeth Dole with Richard Norton Smith (Bernard Weinraub, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Choice by Bob Woodward (Michael Lewis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Choice by Bob Woodward (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Bob Dole by Richard Ben Cramer (Thomas Powers, NY Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links: