Bob Dole: A great leader of the ‘Greatest Generation’
Among the multitude of accolades for Sen. Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican who died on Sunday at the age of 98, I would like to add two brief stories that demonstrate the greatness of the man.
A few years ago, I saw Sen. Dole at a restaurant in Washington; he was seated in a wheelchair. I knew him a bit — but not well — from working on economic policy on Capitol Hill many years earlier. I tapped on his shoulder to pay my respects and, although his body was frail and falling apart, his mind remained sharp. He heartily shook my hand and started a conversation about some budgetary issue that was on his mind, and I was shocked and truly flattered that he remembered who I was.
Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered him while he was eating dinner with two guests, but I wanted to tell him that my father, who was then 91 years old, was a huge admirer of the senator for his heroic service to the nation during World War II and for nearly four decades thereafter in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Like Dole, my father was a World War II veteran, serving in the Pacific; Dole had fought in the European Theatre, where he was severely wounded in 1945 and lost the use of his right arm.
Dole asked: “What is your father’s name, and what is his phone number?” Sure enough, the next day my dad got a call at his assisted-living facility from Bob Dole, and it was one of the highlights of his remaining days.
That was Bob Dole — one of our great modern-day patriots — and he remained so until his death, in a time when today’s spoiled-rotten woke crowd shamefully hasn’t a clue what the words “patriotism” and “service” mean. Most of them have never been taught about what the “Greatest Generation,” of which Dole was a member, did to truly save the planet during World War II and in the years after — and I’m not talking about climate change.
Have our history books ever taught our millennial children of the heroic acts of people like Bob Dole — or of the late John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona who fought in the Vietnam War and survived more than five years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp?
I confess today that I had my policy disagreements with Bob Dole when he was the Republican leader in the Senate, and I would sometimes say disparaging things about him. He was an old-school deal-cutter and I was then a young ideologue who thought of everything in simple black-and-white terms. In 1982 he was one of the congressional leaders who negotiated the infamous Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act tax increase during the Reagan presidency. (Reagan later called the tax hike the worst mistake of his presidency.)
I remember more than once repeating the old line from the congressman and, later, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), a low-tax and supply-side economic conservative, that Dole was “the tax collector for the welfare state.” I’ll admit that I’m a little ashamed today of those words.
Of course, Kemp went on to become Dole’s vice-presidential running mate in the 1996 presidential election. The two of them got past their differences — just as Dole did so effectively during his 27 years in the Senate in order to pass some of that era’s most consequential legislation on a bipartisan basis. In the final year of his life, Dole was highly critical of the big government socialism of Joe Biden. The two had served in the Senate together for more than two decades.
Now for the second incident involving the senator: That brief exchange with Bob Dole at the D.C. restaurant wasn’t the last time I saw him. A few months later, I was strolling past the World War II memorial on a chilly autumn afternoon and saw a man in a wheelchair surrounded by a small crowd of veterans. Dole spent many days of his last years parked at the entrance to the memorial on The Mall, greeting hundreds upon hundreds of the veterans he had served with during the war — a true “band of brothers.”
I am certain that his presence there meant the world to them, too, just as his phone call did to my father and to me.
Stephen Moore is a co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.
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