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Respected worldwide, Dole was an American leader

Bob Dole with Jerry and Susan Farley in the Homecoming parade

(Sen. Bob Dole, ba ’52, jd ’52, h ’69, h ’85 [center] with Jerry and Susan Farley in the Grand Homecoming Parade in 2015. Photo by Bruce Mathews)

From The Ichabod - Winter 2022
Commentary by Bob Beatty

Bob Beatty is professor and chair of the political science department at Washburn University. He is the director of the Kansas Political Campaign TV Ad Archive, which houses the 33 Bob Dole Kansas Senate election ads from 1968-92 that Dole donated to the Washburn political science department. The ads can be viewed at washburn.edu/reference/cks/politics/ads.html.

Washburn alumnus and Kansas Sen. Bob Dole often named a fellow Kansan, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as one of the most effective leaders in American history, saying Eisenhower not only did great things for his state and country, but his leadership touched the world. The same could be said for Sen. Bob Dole, ba ’52, jd ’52, h ’69, h ’85.

Bob DoleA personal incident struck that point home for me. In 2019 I was visiting the small, relatively new Balkan country of Kosovo. I found myself on a street corner in the capital, Pristina, and I looked up at the street sign. I was standing on Robert Dole Street! From Kansas to Kosovo and places in between, Bob Dole’s impact was monumental.

In an interview for a KSNT-TV special on Dole, Ambassador Sam Brownback, former Kansas senator and governor, told me a key to Dole’s success was his ability to work across the aisle: “He had that sense of humor and that midwestern, get things done, Eisenhower way of thinking, ‘I don’t care who gets the credit, let’s get it done, is what I’m concerned about.’ That really served him well in doing so many things.”

To that point, Bob Dole had this to say at the unveiling of the magnificent statue of himself on the Washburn campus on Sept. 9, 2018: “I believe in bipartisanship. We don’t have all the wisdom in our party, and they don’t have all the wisdom in their party, but together we can work out a pretty good compromise. And we did. Time after time after time because of our friendships just with our colleagues.”

Bob Dole spent 27 years in the U.S. Senate. While he worked on thousands of pieces of legislation, several stand out because of how many lives they touched and how he used his skills to make them work – the Food Stamps Reform Act of 1977, Social Security Reform in 1983 and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

On the Food Stamp Act, Amber Dickinson, Washburn assistant professor of political science, told me, “When you look at the trajectory of Bob Dole’s career, he was always concerned about this issue of hunger. This was an attempt to deal with the Food Stamp Program and make some changes to that that would make it more accessible but also would work to alleviate some of the taxpayers’ concerns over some of the waste in the system. So together with Senator (George) McGovern they created this bipartisan piece of legislation.”

Dickinson argues Dole fought for the ADA since the very beginning of his career. “He was a huge advocate for people with disabilities in large part because he was a World War II veteran who had sustained injuries that had left him pretty well unable to use his right arm,” she said. “So, he was always this champion for disabilities. Even though this was a major piece of civil rights legislation, people were concerned that it really was going to cost so much money. Senator Dole was really responsible for creating these conversations that encouraged people to end up voting for the bill.

“His first speech on the floor in 1968 was talking about protecting the rights of people with disabilities. He has this long-term reputation of picking things he wants to advocate for and sticking with them for the entirety of his career.”

Burdett Loomis, a Bob Dole scholar, told me in that same KSNT-TV special Dole had a “real legislative soul” and he was a dealmaker who wanted to bring people together. “That’s who he is,” said Loomis, “Now, he’s ambitious; he wanted to be president. But in the end, I think he was more comfortable in that legislative role.”

Bob Beatty, Bob Dole and Jerry Farley posing at an event

(Professor Bob Beatty, Sen. Bob Dole, and Washburn President Jerry Farley)

Brownback echoed that point about Dole’s unique talent for getting things done, saying, “Often leadership has to try to get the trains to move, so 
he would take some policy positions that he didn’t really agree with but (thought) ‘We need this for the good of the country.’ And at his core he was a patriot. He believes in America and he’s going to fight for America and do whatever it takes to keep this country moving forward.”

I asked Brownback what his lasting memory of Dole would be. His answer speaks volumes about Dole’s legacy: “He really is the embodiment of the World War II generation. That selfless, willingness to give and to sacrifice everything for the common good. That’s really my lasting memory of him.”

As for myself and my thoughts on the life of Bob Dole, I think it apt to use Marlene Dietrich’s line and simply say, “He was some kind of a man.”

 

Watch the KSNT special: Kansas' Bob Dole: An American Life
 
Watch the KTWU special: I've Got Issues: Remembering Bob Dole

 

The Ichabod Magazine Winter 2022 cover - Memorial Union with snow, pine needles in the foreground

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions

 

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