[guest post by Dana]
It is a delight to watch Bob Dole riffing on his election loss on the Dave Letterman Show in 1996, just days after losing to Bill Clinton. A three-time presidential hopeful, Dole was a reminder that a politician’s love for country and fellow man needn’t be sacrificed to ruthless ambition and that being a gentleman in victory and defeat was, and still is, a noble thing:
Here’s Dole on Letterman three days after losing in 1996, gracious in defeat https://t.co/pIrnDR5Bvk
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) December 5, 2021
In an op-ed by Bob Dole’s national press secretary during his 1996 presidential campaign, Nelson Warfield gives an example of Dole embracing his independent spirit and compassion – even as it cost him political points:
Over and over again, in speech after speech, he told his campaign he was going to say what he wanted. We thought that was a problem. Looking back, I think it was a treasure.
See, Mr. Dole didn’t want to be packaged like a product or traffic in the staged outrage that today would be praised for generating attention, the currency of politics. It could be that his resistance to our demands to recite talking points or perform anger hurt his campaign. But if so, I now see that as an indictment of what politics was becoming in 1996 and what politics has become today.
It’s in unscripted moments that politicians reveal the most about themselves. While many politicians show themselves to be cynical, cruel or inauthentic in those off-script moments, Mr. Dole instead revealed a rare empathy.
For example, in 1996, Gov. Pete Wilson of California, a Republican, had won re-election two years prior with a tough law-and-order message, so we organized a trip to a jail in Los Angeles, with Mr. Wilson in tow, for a tour and a news conference.
It was a perfectly staged opportunity for Mr. Dole to say something bashing the miserable offenders he had just seen in the lockup. Instead, his first comment was to wonder aloud whether some of the men in those cells had ever been touched by the hand of someone who loved them.
Nobody had written that note of humanity for Mr. Dole. I’m not sure it was even picked up by the press. But it sprang from a compassion that he found hard to switch off for political purposes.
And this struck me as something precious and lost in today’s hurly-burly world: Bob Dole could frequently be found at the World War II Memorial greeting and speaking with visiting veterans. He worked hard to see the Memorial become a reality, and it has been suggested that there might not even be the World War II Memorial without his involvement.
You can read more about the life and times of Bob Dole here.
May he rest in peace.