CNN/TIME AllPolitics Vote '96

Dole's 36-Year Political Legacy

By Justin C. Oppmann/AllPolitics

dole nov.5

WASHINGTON (Nov. 6) -- Bob Dole's loss in his pursuit of the presidency brings to a close 36 years in the political spotlight. As Dole's political career ends, many wonder: what is Dole's political legacy and what effect did the campaign have on it?

Dole left a reputation on Capitol Hill as an honest man who knew how to get things done. He is admired as a master tactician as well as a moderating voice in the Senate. Dole was a force in Congress as the ultimate "in-basket" politician, a man who effectively dealt with issues as they arose rather than attempting to make them conform to his vision.

The characteristics that made him a superb legislator did not, however, translate well on the campaign trail. Yet even this loss does little to tarnish a lasting and venerable political career.


Dole, as he often said during the campaign, has often done things the hard way since he tirelessly struggled to lift himself out of his hospital bed after narrowly avoiding death in World War II. While some would have been content just to walk again or dress themselves, Dole just pushed himself harder. After serving in the Kansas House of Representatives, as Russell County attorney, and as a four-term member of the House of Representatives, in 1968 Dole was elected to the U.S. Senate.

During his 36 years on Capitol Hill, Dole involved himself in many memorable and controversial events.

1964: Dole votes for the Civil Rights Bill, a politically risky move in a deeply divided America. Dole has repeatedly argued that the Republican party needs to do more to include minorities.

dole and nixon

1964: Dole votes against food stamps though he later votes for them in 1975. Such programs also benefit farmers from places like Kansas who actually grow the food.

1965: Votes against Medicare. In 1995, Dole stated, "I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare -- one of twelve -- because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965." During the debates, when challenged by Clinton, Dole said, "I've supported Medicare ever since. In fact, I used to go home, my mother would tell me, she said, 'Bob, all I've got is my Social Security and my Medicare. Don't cut it.' I wouldn't violate anything my mother said."

1976: Joins Gerald Ford's ticket as vice presidential candidate. He displayed biting partisanship, referring to the Vietnam, Korean and both World Wars as "Democratic wars" during his debate with Walter Mondale. The comment was considered a new low in campaigning (though it was provoked by Mondale linking Dole to Watergate). Dole's "Democrat wars" comment probably lost needed Democratic votes for the Ford-Dole ticket. It was in this campaign Dole acquired the reputation as a hatchet man.

dole and ford

1981: For the first time in his Washington career, Dole finds himself in the majority. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, however, he angered Reagan's supply-siders with his lack of enthusiasm for their philosophy and for successfully passing tax increases in 1982 (his Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, or TEFRA).

November 1984: Dole campaigns and wins the race to succeed Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker as Senate majority leader. Dole had the backing of moderates but Sen. Jesse Helms is credited with rounding up the conservative votes necessary for Dole's win. The Republicans slipped back into the minority in 1986.

1988: Dole wins the Iowa caucuses, but loses New Hampshire's primary to George Bush. He angrily tells Bush to "stop lying about my record." The media had a field day with the comment, replaying the clip often, until it became a trademark of the "mean" Bob Dole.

1990: Votes for the Americans With Disabilities Act. As Dole stated in his resignation speech from the Senate, "We stood with many who couldn't stand on their own, and the highlight was passing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Forty-three million Americans -- they're not all seriously disabled, but there are many in wheelchairs, many who can't even sit up, and it was a very impressive sight to be at the White House the day that bill was signed by President Bush."

1991: Votes for the Gulf War Authorization in an example of bipartisan support for a common cause. "The United States is at war. Whatever differences have existed until now, whatever our debate, we have been united since the beginning in our goals and our determination," Dole said.

dole on the hill

Dole came to Congress at the same time that John F. Kennedy entered the White House. He has played a part in almost every significant battle over the budget, Medicare, welfare, foreign policy, defense and taxes in the last three decades. It is estimated that Dole has cast nearly 20,000 votes during his tenure in Congress.

Dole has unrelentingly pushed for a smaller federal government by returning power to the people. The index card with the 10th Amendment that Dole carries everywhere with him has become of symbol of his own constant desire to give power back to the states. Much of his career was spent in the minority, playing defense against Democratic iniatives. Ironically, Dole only briefly assumed the mantle of majority leader before began his run for the presidency.

Given a lackluster campaign that never presented a substantial voice, vision or challenge to President Clinton, Dole's White House bid wound up being little more than the exclamation point on his long and distinguished career in public service. Some argue that Dole actually retired from politics on June 11 when he left the Senate. Senator Dole surprised the nation when he announced that he would resign from the Senate in order to run for the White House full time. "And I will then stand before you without office or authority, a private citizen, a Kansan, an American, just a man," Dole said in an emotional address.

Dole vowed to give his run for the presidency his full attention adding, "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."

dole last day in senate

Dole distinguished himself over his long political career as one of the influential politicians of our time, a fact that his failed presidential hopes do not diminish.

Where does Dole go from here? He did not make it to the White House, but where exactly is home? It is unlikely that Dole will move back to Russell, Kan., and sit on his front porch. While he may be at the end of his political career, Elizabeth Dole is not. Mrs. Dole has stated throughout the campaign the she intends to return to her job as the president of the American Red Cross. And in his concession speech Tuesday night, Dole hinted at public service to come.

"It's been a long time since I entered politics way back in 1951 and a lot of things have happened since that time, but some things never change.

"A few days after I took my seat in the state legislature, a reporter asked me what I had on my agenda," Dole told his supporters. "I said, 'Well I'm going to sit back and watch for a few days and then I'll stand up for what I think is right.' And any of you who wonder what my plans may be in the future, I'm going to sit back for a few days, then I'm going to start standing up for what I think is right for America and right for you."

Though he did not achieve the presidency, Dole ran a fair campaign and will ultimately be remembered for his legislative legacy and many years of honest public service.



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