Bob Dole

Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole died a few days ago. Dole fought, and was severely wounded, in World War II. He was a member of congress for most of his adult life after the war, and a leading Republican senator for a generation. In 1996, he was the Republican Party establishment’s chosen presidential candidate, where his intended role was roughly the same as that of another decorated veteran, John McCain, in 2008, namely to lose with dignity, which he did.

He retired from electoral politics to spend the rest of his days as an elder statesman within the Washington establishment, which meant staying out of the big policy debates in favor of serving various financial, charitable, and lobbying interests, and in general playing political celebrity, which he did extremely well, given that his distinguished political career had ended with an ignominious defeat.

Dole was a great advocate, including in retirement, of the notion of “bipartisanship” in its modern American usage, which essentially means putting pragmatic policy advocacy ahead of political principles — thus implicitly entrenching the “two-party system” lie that has effectively destroyed American politics by turning it into an insiders’ game of empty public disagreements ameliorated by deference to “my good friend across the aisle,” picking all the meat off the country’s bones while the constitutional framework is left increasingly exposed as a brittle skeleton. Dole was living proof that this process of national decay is not always the result of evil intent (though there is plenty of that too); in the main, the mechanism of democratic deterioration is nothing more complicated than the fact that practical politics is a machine, and its parts — politicians — are sometimes respectable, “decent,” but shortsighted men, which is to say men with insufficient breadth of vision to understand which way their earnest efforts tend.

In every presidential election, Dole, the ultimate party man, actively supported the GOP establishment’s preferred nominee and publicly attacked that candidate’s rivals in the nomination process. The culmination of this trend was his switch, early in 2016, from supporting the still-born candidacy of Jeb Bush to throwing his name and reputation behind Donald Trump. His endorsement of Trump, and direct criticism of Trump’s main rival Ted Cruz (on the grounds that Cruz would not be “loyal to the party”), played a very important role in legitimizing Trump’s candidacy in the minds of many establishmentarians and rank-and-file Republican voters who had hitherto been holding out against accepting a notoriously fraudulent moron as their party’s leading voice. Dole’s support, and the credibility it brought in the eyes of the party’s major donors, unquestionably helped Trump become president.

Dole, so far as I can see, was a decent man, a skilled legislator (a dubious claim to fame), and a man for whom loyalty to one’s party took precedence over any highfalutin talk of liberty and history. If American political life were comprised largely of Bob Doles, the country would not be suffering through the end-stage constitutional failure in which it is trapped today — though neither would it be what the Founding Fathers hoped it would be.

I see that Joe Biden spoke at Dole’s funeral. I would not listen to such a thing, because Biden speaking causes me to cringe almost as much as Trump speaking, though for slightly different reasons. In any case, I can easily imagine the president meandering into stories about his time fighting alongside Dole in the trenches on Bastille Day. Dole had both a sense of humor and a bit of a nasty streak, so he might enjoy listening to Biden now.

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