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Jacobin - December 9, 2021

Dole was as craven, corrupt, and vicious a politician as any of his era, and had he been born some decades later, he clearly would have comfortably adjusted himself to the pathologies of today’s GOP.

There’s a tiresome ritual that seems to have started with the Trump era, which comes every time an older generation’s Republican dies. Like clockwork, as if every reporter was sent the same sheet of talking points the night before, a stream of articles, tweets, statements, and other ephemera spills onto the Web, telling us what a moderate force this man was, how he’s the last of an era of bipartisanship and civility, how different he was to the disagreeable, corrupt, and often extreme right of today, and wouldn’t it be nice to be back there again.

It happened with John McCain. It happened with Colin Powell. It happened with George H. W. Bush. Hell, it happened with Bush’s son, and he’s not even dead yet. And sure as the sun comes up, it’s happening again with former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, who died this past Sunday at age ninety-eight.

Here’s an obituary from his native Kansas, mourning his “spirit of compromise,” and his “legacy” of “tireless effort to find common ground with political opponents.” Here’s Dole as a symbol of “a better path not taken,” a man we should remember for how he “took governing seriously.” He “led to get things done,” the Washington Post editorial board tells us, spurred by his death to “wish there really was a bridge to the past.” He “came to epitomize a kinder day in an increasingly partisan Washington.” He “reminds us of an era in which the two parties were willing to work together.” His “faith in the possibility of collaboration and compromise seems all too rare now.” Even the New Republic got in on this tedious act, lamenting that Dole’s “pragmatism” made him “out of step with a changing GOP.”

“To the Right of Genghis Khan”

“I’m a conservative, not right-wing,” Dole would later say.

In practice, the distinction was meaningless. When Dole first entered Congress in the 1960s, he opposed virtually the entire suite of Great Society programs put forward by Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats that would prove vital to American well-being in the decades ahead: Medicare, Medicaid, fair housing, food stamps, and federal aid to education, to name a few. Contrary to the emerging myth about Dole’s bipartisanship, he voted against the first three despite the fact they were backed by most other House Republicans. 

From start to bitter end, Dole backed the disastrous war in Vietnam, and didn’t care how low he sank to do it. He excoriated the media for its supposed bias in covering the war critically, alleging an “attempted media sabotage” that “could cost the lives” of US troops, and was “encouraging to every damn crook in the country.” He did the same to his colleagues critical of Nixon’s war effort, calling them “the new Chamberlains” and worse.

George McGovern would later complain about Dole’s suggestions that he and other critics were “personally disloyal or unpatriotic or even hostile to the best interests of American troops.” Even decades later, when he’d spent years out of power, Dole kept this up, joining the GOP smears on John Kerry’s war record in the 2004 election, saying he had “never bled that he knew of,” and questioning whether he should’ve received Purple Hearts for “superficial wounds.” ...
Read full report at Jacobin