Washington – Former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, the WWII veteran who Republicans hoped would oust President Bill Clinton from the White House in 1996, has died, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation said on Sunday. He was 98 years old. He was diagnosed with: Stage 4 lung cancer in February 2021.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation said Dole died in his sleep early Sunday morning.
When Dole became the Republican presidential candidate in 1996, it was the culmination of more than half a century in the national limelight as a congressman, senator, vice presidential candidate, two presidential nominees, national Republican Party leader and longtime Republican leader in the Senate.
Dole was the last of the presidential candidates to serve in World War II, and in the 1996 election campaign he offered himself as a link to the so-called Greatest Generation and another, better time.
“For those who say it never was, that America was never better, I say you are wrong and I know because I was there and I saw it and I remember it,” said Dole .
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It did not work. Calling Dole a man of the past and the Democrats a bridge to the future, Bill Clinton easily won re-election.
It was true that Dole had grown up in an America many voters had only heard of, but those days on the Kansas prairie – the Dust Bowl days, the Great Depression – and the war shaped him.
Once a star high school athlete who dreamed of becoming a doctor, he went to a war that would change him forever. He came back badly wounded, and those wounds would cost him the use of an arm.
He was concerned that he would end up in a wheelchair selling pencils on the street, and as he later told 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, his life was becoming a living nightmare.
“One day they got me out of bed and the bathroom door was open,” said Dole. “There was a mirror on the far wall of the shaving cabinet. I couldn’t believe it was Bob Dole. So I didn’t look in the mirror. I still don’t look in the mirror except to shave.”
He nearly died twice and he lost a kidney to infection, but Russell, Kansas residents raised money in a cigar box to fund his rehabilitation and his war record resulted in a seat in Congress and later in the Senate.
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In 1976, President Gerald Ford elected him vice president in hopes of winning over dubious conservatives, and when he returned to Kansas to tell the locals about it, he collapsed remembering the early days.
“I remember when I needed help, the Russell people were helping, and I think …” he said, and began to cry.
The ticket went to Jimmy Carter, and the campaign revealed another side of Dole, the political gutfighter who accused the Democrats of being warmongers.
“We’ve added up the dead and wounded in the Democratic wars of this century,” said Dole. That night he was given a label that would haunt him for the rest of his life: Beilmann.
“I think Senator Dole well earned his reputation as a war broker tonight by hinting and stating that World War II and the Korean War were Democratic Wars,” said Senator Walter Mondale, Carter’s vice president.
Dole returned to the Senate and resumed his political career, but when he tried to run for president alone in 1988, his temper again prevailed. In New Hampshire he called the main opponent George Bush a liar and more.
Once again, Dole returned to the Senate and rebuilt ties with Democrats as well as Republicans, resulting in a long list of legal accomplishments from social security reform to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Dole told ABILITY Magazine that because of his own disability, he knew he had to “do something special” with his life. It “changes your whole life, not just your attitudes,” he said. “I was a pretty good athlete before my injury, but after that I learned to push myself harder and get good grades for a change,” he said. In his first speech in the Senate on April 14, 1969 – April 24, Dole sat down.
“It’s a group that nobody joins voluntarily – a group whose membership requirements are not based on age, gender, wealth, education, skin color, religious belief, political party, power or prestige,” he said in Senate Boden. “As a minority, they have always known exclusion; maybe not from the front of the bus, but maybe even from getting on; maybe not from continuing education, but maybe from experience of formal education; maybe not from day-to-day” – daily life itself, however perhaps a reasonable opportunity to develop and contribute to its full potential. “
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark piece of civil rights law outlawing discrimination based on disability, was enacted on July 26, 1990 by President George HW Bush. Dole said he considered the deed to be one of his proudest accomplishments.
When the Republicans won a majority in 1994, Dole became the Senate majority leader. He held the influential office until he dramatically resigned in July 1996 to focus on the full-time candidacy.
“My time to leave this office has come and I will seek the presidency on nothing but people’s judgment and go nowhere but the White House or home,” said Dole.
And so Senator Dole became a Citizen of Dole, but when he lost the presidency to Bill Clinton, he didn’t go to Kansas. He was a Capitol man and returned to Washington to begin another chapter in his long life.
He proudly watched as his wife Elizabeth, a former Reagan and Bush cabinet member, was herself elected to the Senate. And in a move that surprised even close friends, he became a TV pitchman – he did a soft drink commercial with Britney Spears and, as a prostate cancer survivor, also advertised Viagra.
Dole received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2018 for lifelong commitment to public service. He thanked his colleagues, “because nothing would have been achieved without them.”
Bob Dole said he is living proof that America is a land without borders, and he has moved those borders from the Kansas prairie of his youth to the great corridors of power where he has spent so much of his life – one of the last generation of World War II, whose values and courage had so much to do with shaping America today.
Audrey McNamara contributed to this report.