Remembering Bob Dole: Veteran, GOP presidential nominee, Kansas senator

Robert “Bob” Dole, who led the Republican party in the Senate for decades and was its presidential candidate, died on Sunday at 98. A veteran who was injured in World War II, and a politician for more than 50 years, he had been suffering from lung cancer. Known for his bipartisan abilities, he helped pass the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990. Barbara Perry, Director of Presidential Studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Joining me now for more on the life and legacy of Bob Dole is Barbara Perry, director of Presidential Studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

    Barbara, what should people remember about Bob Dole?

  • Barbara Perry:

    They should remember that he served his country with great distinction and courage starting in World War II, where he was nearly killed in the 10th Mountain Division and fighting north of Florence in the Italian Theater of War, was really left for dead with such as grievous wound, but came back to the United States, went through months and years of surgeries and rehabilitation, from paralysis to a right arm and shoulder that were left virtually useless and then carried on to go on into politics.

    He had hoped to be a surgeon, but instead he was actually going under the surgeon's knife rather than being the surgeon. So he decided on law school, went into the Kansas Legislature, then on into Congress and ran for vice president and president unsuccessfully. But he should certainly be remembered for this long, long record of service to the country.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of the things that comes up about his career in Congress is his ability to find bipartisan solutions. And to me, one of the probably more monumental pieces of legislation that he was instrumental with is the Americans with Disabilities Act. What's the kind of story behind that?

  • Barbara Perry:

    As you can imagine, having been disabled himself to the point where his obituaries are saying that because he was paralyzed in coming back from the war and only after rehabilitation regained the use of his legs and his left arm. But he thought at the time in the 1940s he might be relegated to selling pencils on the street corner to try to make a living, so he knew what it was like to be a person with a physical challenge. And you mentioned his attempts at bipartisanship on occasion.

    He worked very closely with Ted Kennedy. It's hard to imagine two more partisan men and battlers in the trenches of the Senate on different sides of the political spectrum. But what Bob Dole said in his oral history about Teddy Kennedy, the Miller Center conducted in the early 2000s, was that he said Teddy Kennedy was like Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan would come to the Senate, would come to Bob Dole when he was the leader of the majority and say, If you can get 80 percent of what I want or 90 percent, you don't have to always get 100 percent. And so Bob Dole said in this oral history about the Kennedy. Teddy Kennedy was the same, and they had two different visions, perhaps of the ADA, with Teddy wanting to want more from the government than perhaps Bob Dole did.

    But what Bob Dole said ultimately was they found the middle ground and they took the bill through. They got it through. It became law and it was signed into law by George H.W. Bush.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, in a way, the period that he served, he witnessed really the evolution of the Republican Party in a way that I wonder if he recognizes Congress today from when he came in?

  • Barbara Perry:

    He was already telling us in the oral history in the late aughts, as they call them, of the200s sort of 2000-5-6-7 that period, he said. I'm already beginning to see as I look back on my 30 some odd years in the Congress, a change. And he said, I'm seeing less civility. I'm seeing less bipartisanship. And it was beginning to worry him. So I'm sure as he came to these last years and his life and saw what happened on January the 6th of this year, that it must have been a trauma to him.

    Now, having said that, he did support in 2016 Donald Trump, who of course, was responsible for a number of these elements of increasing lack of civility in American life and public life, and even the insurrection itself on January the 6th. So I'm not sure how he dealt with that. I'm sure he was somewhat conflicted over it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what do you think his longer term legacy is going to be when it comes to the impact that he's had on the Senate that impacted his wife, went on to become a senator as well, and she's – she's accomplished in her own right, running the Red Cross and other things.

  • Barbara Perry:

    I think that people will see them, perhaps as James and Dolly Madison, the first power couple and early Washington, D.C., as our capital. But they were one of the first modern contemporary figures in that realm of being a power couple in Washington. So I think they'll be seen that way as two people who found each other but also served the country together.

    And I think for Bob Dole, in addition to the Americans with Disabilities Act, he was very proud of helping to secure and save social security. So he should be remembered for that as well as for the World War II memorial in Washington. And I got to take my dad, who was also World War II vet, also served in Italy during World War II in the opening days of of that memorial before he passed in 2006, and it was a very moving time, and I know many, many of the greatest generation and their children and grandchildren have had those experiences, so a salute to Bob Dole for that as well.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Barbara Perry of the Miller Center. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Barbara Perry:

    Thank you, Hari.

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