"I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, to Sen. Dan Quayle, 1998 vice presidential debate
"I covered Bob Dole. I knew Bob Dole. Bob Dole was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Bob Dole." Me, to Sen. Mike Lee, now
Actually, Bob Dole probably couldn't pick me out of a two-man line-up.
He was a senator from Kansas, longest-serving Senate party leader, vice presidential nominee in 1976 and presidential standard-bearer in 1996. I was one of hundreds of journalists who followed Dole's career, mostly from afar.
I shook his hand maybe twice. It was his left hand. His right arm was basically destroyed in World War II.
Dole was one of those newly minted 2nd lieutenants who was pitched into a combat role and thought he knew enough to let his more experienced platoon sergeant run things.
Then he damn near died while trying to rescue his radioman.
He went through a horrible recovery period, with medical care paid for partly by the government and partly by contributions left in cigar boxes in businesses in his home town of Russell, Kansas. Then he got into politics. County attorney. State legislature. Congress. Senate.
He never forgot Russell. Or those cigar boxes.
With all of the Washington punditry that focused on him, I doubted that he was even aware of my existence. Though a reporter did come back from a tarmac presser one day to say, "Bob Dole says hello to his favorite looney lefty newspaper editor."
Us looney lefty prairie populists were driven crazy by Dole's tendency to vote against Medicare, suck up to the right wing and unfairly smear a Democratic rival as an abortionist, then make passionate speeches about the debt we owe to our veterans or the need to make basic nutrition available to the poor all over the world.
He and his good friend Sen. George McGovern worked together to get food stamps and free school lunches for more Americans, and nutrition programs in poor nations worldwide. Yes, that George McGovern, a looney lefty if ever there was one.
Dole's Republican bona fides were practically tattooed to the back of his neck but, especially after 1976, after Watergate and going down with the Gerald Ford ticket, he was always ready, willing and able to reach across any aisle to do a deal. That was how the body functioned. That was how he got things done. Things like, in 1990, Dole's Americans with Disabilities Act.
The University of Kansas created an institute named for him, dedicated to bipartisan problem-solving. Bill Clinton gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He made some Viagra commercials.
The other day, frail and getting about in a wheelchair, Dole revisited the Senate floor. He went to lobby his fellow Republicans to vote for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Eight of them did. Thirty-eight of them, including Utah's Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, did not. The treaty failed.
Hatch used to be a bipartisan exemplar in the Dole mode. But, while Dole got more reasonable as he got older, Hatch has become less so. Lee can be written off as a tea party whelp who has risen too far, too fast and can't tell principle from partisanship. He clearly has none of Bob Dole's heart. His empathy.
For the rest of my life, I can say I met Bob Dole once or twice and be proud of a very meager connection to a truly great American. None of my fellow Utahns can say that about either of our senators.