Let us begin this new year by praising a pair of politicians from years past. Bob Dole, 91, and George H.W. Bush, 90, are respected elder statesmen of the Republican Party, and indeed all of America, from whom we can still learn a lot.
They are also among the most distinguished representatives of a generation that is passing from the national stage. Each man rendered heroic military service in World War II before entering a life of public service.
Dole lost use of his right arm after being hit by German machine gun fire in Italy in 1945. Bush was the youngest pilot in the Navy when he received his wings, flew 58 combat missions, and was rescued by a submarine after being shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire.
The pair also exemplifies two traditional strands of the Republican Party. Bush, whose father was a U. S. Senator, personifies the affluent, Eastern, Ivy League moderate variety that is now almost extinct. Dole, the quintessential Kansan, typifies the common, down-to-earth, plainspoken prairie populist sort that originated with Abraham Lincoln.
The Bush-Dole duo also displayed distinctly different temperaments. The gentlemanly Bush always took the high road and sometimes seemed a little embarrassed or uncomfortable with the red meat rough-and-tumble of partisan politics.
Dole, on the other hand, could play political hardball with the best of them. He used his devilishly dry wit to deliver hard-hitting digs that made many view him as “mean” before he mellowed a bit.
Each man enjoyed great success at the highest levels of American politics. Dole was a congressman, Senate majority leader, chairman of the Republican National Committee, GOP vice presidential nominee in 1976, and the party's presidential nominee in 1996.
Bush's resume is one of the most impressive in U. S. political history. He was a congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, chief liaison to China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency before serving two terms as Ronald Reagan's vice president, and one term as president.
Both men also experienced the sting of political defeat. Dole lost both times he was on the national ticket. Bush lost his bid for reelection to the presidency, a loss made even more bitter by the fact that he had enjoyed soaring popularity after his successful handling of the first Iraq War.
Democrat Bill Clinton, the draft-dodging and morally challenged Baby Boomer antithesis of these brave World War II veterans, administered the final political defeat to each. But that did not stop Bush from building a close and cordial relationship with Clinton as part of a respected post-presidential career that has included parachute jumps, an inspiring collection of personal notes written to all sorts of people, a reputation for sporting colorful socks, and being the father of another president.
Dole and Bush have another thing in common. Each is married to an accomplished wife with a strong personality who has earned widespread admiration, affection, and respect in her own right.
The outspoken Barbara Bush is nothing less than a force of nature. Elizabeth Dole has been a cabinet secretary, a senator, and presidential candidate.
This columnist has had the honor of meeting both Bush and Dole. How they handled an encounter with a relative nobody only enhanced their stature in my eyes.
In 1977, when citizens could more or less freely roam the U. S. Capitol and congressional office buildings, this then-teenager staked out Dole's office after he spoke to a group of which I was part. When he arrived, quite imposing in person, I expressed my respect for his recent vice presidential campaign.
The busy Dole could have brushed me off. Instead, he took the time to talk with a kid from Kentucky and to personalize an autographed picture which is among my most prized possessions of political memorabilia.
In 1980, when Bush (a fellow member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity) was running against Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination, I wrote to his campaign to obtain buttons, stickers, posters, and contribution envelopes, etc. to mount an effort for him on the Centre College campus.
Suffice it to say that support was hard to come by. The most common reaction was, “Who?” Bush won the Iowa caucuses, but disappointingly dropped out of the race the day before the Kentucky primary.
I related this story to Bush in 2006. He said, in mock seriousness, “You are the reason I am where I am today!” before laughing and sincerely saying thanks.
Both men remain active. Dole has done ads for Viagra, pushed for an international treaty on disabilities, and recently helped Republicans hold a U. S. Senate seat in Kansas. Bush, who celebrated his 90th birthday in June with another parachute jump, was recently released from the hospital, however.
American should celebrate and thank Bush and Dole for their service and their example. The country could use a lot more like them these days.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.