It seems fitting, in a perverse way, given the abysmal state of American conservatism, that much of this week has been given over to bipartisan tributes to a politician who was one of the last remaining links to a Republican Party not in thrall to conspiracy, crackpot science ideas and grifting con men.
Kansas senator and Republican candidate for both vice president and president Bob Dole, who died recently at age 98, was about as removed from the current crop of do-nothing, stand for nothing GOP senators as it is possible to imagine.
As Bob Dole might have said, “Bob Dole doesn’t understand this craziness.”
The Kansas politicians was many, many things: a legit war hero who lost the use of his right arm to fascist bullets in Italy but whose party now thinks nothing of a bunch of Neo-Nazis marching brown shirt style in Charlottesville; a bipartisan deal maker whose party now wants to shut down the government over efforts to control the worst pandemic since Kaiser Wilhelm; a guy with a sense of humor in contrast to a party totally lacking in self-awareness, not to mention soul.
Dole was a hard-core Republican, but I find no record of him dismissing Democrats as “communists.”
In truth, Bob Dole was a serious guy. Remembering his career underscores how incredibly unserious one political party – his party – has become.
Dole’s legislative record puts to shame virtually every sitting United States senator. He will forever be remembered for his role in creating the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law written by a disabled guy who had to teach himself to write with his left hand. Dole worked with liberal Democrats Tom Harkin and Ted Kennedy to get it passed.
Dole could be a rough, even nasty partisan. He once called Jimmy Carter a “Southern-fried McGovern,” but still worked with liberal George McGovern to establish food security programs like food stamps and school lunches. Dole voted for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.
This was once what serious political leaders did – they worked to address serious national problems. Today’s Republican Party, devoid of true conservative principles, is a nativist cesspool of disinformation, culture war nonsense and performative grievance.
Consider in the days since Dole died:
- A former Republican congressman and White House chief of staff – Mark Meadows – has defied a congressional subpoena compelling him to tell what he knows about the events surrounding the January 6 attack on the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters. The same day Meadows reversed course on the summons – he originally said he would comply – he went on Fox News to downplay the assault. This Republican won’t respect a lawful demand from the branch of government he once served but will happily talk nonsense to Sean Hannity.
- While the president was engaged in diplomacy at the highest level with Vladimir Putin, a Republican senator – Roger Wicker of Mississippi – actually suggested the United States lob missiles at Russian military bases, volunteered that American troops might “be on the ground” in Ukraine and that the U.S. might engage in a nuclear first strike on Russia. Wicker’s reckless, warmongering loose talk is a glaring example of the arrogance, ignorance and lack of seriousness on the American right.
- And in Wisconsin, a Republican former judge investigating phony allegations of vote fraud has threatened to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay over their responses to his hyperventilating nutjobbery. Meanwhile, an independent conservative group has again confirmed there was no vote fraud in Wisconsin in the last election.
One could go on at length but suffice to say this is not Bob Dole’s Republican Party. Dole acknowledged as much in a final piece written earlier this year and by his agreement released after his death.
“There has been a lot of talk about what it will take to heal our country,” Dole wrote in the Washington Post. “We have heard many of our leaders profess ‘bipartisanship.’ But we must remember that bipartisanship is the minimum we should expect from ourselves.
“America has never achieved greatness when Republicans and Democrats simply manage to work together or tolerate each other. We have overcome our biggest challenges only when we focused on our shared values and experiences. These common ties form much stronger bonds than political parties.”
What Republican today thinks like that, much less behaves like that?
“When we prioritize principles over party and humanity over personal legacy, we accomplish far more as a nation,” Dole said in his last op-ed. “By leading with a shared faith in each other, we become America at its best: a beacon of hope, a source of comfort in crisis, a shield against those who threaten freedom.” Dole wasn’t describing the Republican Party.
A top aide to retiring Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman has succinctly described the GOP approach to politics. “If you want to spend all your time going on Fox and be[ing] an a**hole,” Corry Bliss told National Journal, “there’s never been a better time to serve. But if you want to spend all your time being thoughtful and getting s**t done, there’s never been a worse time to serve.”
It logically follows that the Senate Republican leader recently announced that the party will have no legislative agenda in 2022 – none. Oh, Mitch McConnell and his acolytes will continue to obstruct, delay and fail to engage, but they won’t try to solve any problems.
Little wonder Portman is retiring. Bob Dole would understand.
It is impossible to remember Dole and his role in American political life over half a century without recalling his remarkable sense of humor, another attribute totally missing in today’s political class.
When Republicans took Senate control in 1980 for the first time in a quarter century, Dole realized the Senate – and his party – was changing. He knew that successful Republicans candidates that year like Dan Quayle in Indiana, Steve Symms in Idaho and Chuck Grassley in Iowa were nothing to celebrate, and he joshed truthfully: “If we had known we were going to win control of the Senate, we’d have run better candidates.”
Dole meant that as a joke, more or less, but we live with the legacy – a party unconcerned about policy, often devoid of truth and increasingly undemocratic.
We do well to celebrate a serious politician like the man from Russell, Kansas. We’d do even better to elect more like him.
A few other items you may find of interest…
Burying Leni Riefenstahl: one woman’s lifelong crusade against Hitler’s favorite film-maker
An Austrian documentary filmmaker has dedicated much of her life to correcting the record about Leni Riefenstahl, the woman who made movies for the Nazis.
“During the Nazi era, Riefenstahl had been the regime’s most skilled propagandist, directing films that continue to be both reviled for their glorification of the Third Reich and considered landmarks of early cinema for their innovations and technical mastery. Once the second world war was over, Riefenstahl sought to distance herself from the regime she had served, portraying herself as an apolitical naif whose only motivation was making the most beautiful art possible. ‘I don’t know what I should apologize for,’ she once said. ‘All my films won the top prize.'”
What Propelled Vivian Maier’s Earliest New York Photographs?
I can unreservedly recommend an excellent film about a remarkable photographer – Finding Vivian Maier.
And this is an excerpt of a new book on Maier, who captured daily life in New York and elsewhere starting in 1951.
“Many have observed that Vivian possessed an underdog’s perspective, and regardless of her circumstances, she identified primarily with the working class. While the beginnings of such an affiliation is apparent in her French photographs, this point of view would permeate her New York work. Possessing a progressive perspective, she was drawn toward capturing the intersections of race and class.”
Here’s a link to the excerpt…and be sure to look up the documentary.
The Woman in Black
I really enjoyed this piece – it is a bit gruesome – about the last judicial duel in France in 1386. A bit before my time, but really fascinating.
The story is the basis for a new film – The Last Duel – starring Matt Damon and Adam Driver. The story line involves an alleged rape, the accusations of a noble woman and a fight to the death between the accused the woman’s husband. OK, then…
“The trial by combat would decide whether she had told the truth—and thus whether she would live or die. Like today, sexual assault and rape often went unpunished and even unreported in the Middle Ages. But a public accusation of rape, at the time a capital offense and often a cause for scandalous rumors endangering the honor of those involved, could have grave consequences for both accuser and accused, especially among the nobility.”
The 100 Best Baseball Books Ever Written
I can nitpick a few of these “best 100,” but it is a pretty solid collection of books on baseball. Reading about the great game will have to do while the billionaire owners sort out their issues with the millionaire players.
“There are, of course, inner-circle Hall of Fame baseball books. On any self-respecting list, you’ll find The Glory of Their Times, The Summer Game, Eight Men Out, The Natural, Veeck as in Wreck, Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?, Ball Four, The Boys of Summer, The Lords of the Realm, and Moneyball. Those titles appear here, of course, along with our pick of 100 indispensable books no baseball fan should be without. In no particular order…”
Thanks, my friends, for following along. Get the Christmas cards done. All the best.