Bob Dole, who died Sunday at age 98, will be remembered best for his extraordinary dedication to honoring his fellow military veterans and his intense loyalty to his party, balanced by pragmatism, in a remarkable Senate career.
Dole lost elections as the Republican nominee for president in 1996 and as Gerald Ford’s vice presidential running mate in 1976. The Kansan served in the United States Senate for 27 years and the House of Representatives for eight. And for as long as he was able, Bob Dole every Saturday sat in his wheelchair welcoming veterans and their companions to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., calling out "Welcome home, this is your place," shaking hands and comparing war stories, cadging kisses from the women and slaps on the back from the men.
Dole was an exceptional everyman, like many of his generation: a high school and Kansas University star in basketball, football and track, a student whose education was interrupted by World War II.
He was seriously wounded in battle in Italy, leaving him with lifelong damage to both arms. Caring for veterans, wounded and otherwise, physically and emotionally, was a central focus of his political career.
That career was long and distinguished and by today’s standards, moderate. Dole supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was a strong voice for the expansion of the food stamp program, and against the scorched-earth politics of Newt Gingrich, who served as speaker of the House while Dole was Senate majority leader.
Dole was a conservative. In his acceptance speech for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination, he said, "In politics, honorable compromise is no sin. It is what protects us from absolutism and intolerance."
In his presidential run he promised an across-the-board 15% income tax cut, and made supply-side advocate Jack Kemp, the Buffalo-area congressman, his running mate. He also supported an anti-abortion plank in the GOP platform, but demanded it include a message of tolerance for pro-choice views, which earned him enemies on both sides.
In manner, Dole was famously gruff and sarcastic but good-humored enough to sometimes make a joke of it.
And he was the last World War II veteran to receive a major-party nomination for the presidency.
He fought tirelessly to get the World War II Memorial built. He worked ceaselessly for the veterans themselves, for their health care and their place of honor in society.
Dole was an avatar of the Greatest Generation. He did his duty, he cared for others, he did not brag or divide or bluster, he stood on principle.
He was a champion of America in war and peace.