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Revisiting Steve Inskeep's 2005 conversation with Bob Dole


Next, we hear the voice of Bob Dole. He lies in state at the Capitol today, acknowledging decades of service as a Republican senator, vice presidential candidate and presidential nominee in 1996. Dole was a dedicated partisan who defended Republican presidents from Nixon to Trump. Yet he also took part in a complicated system, worked with Democrats, compromised and backed bipartisan legislation, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, which touched his life. He had almost no use of his right arm because of injuries while fighting in Italy in the Second World War.

In 2005, Bob Dole came by our studios, and we're just going to replay that conversation - a voice from another time. In it, Dole quoted from a letter he wrote home to his parents after his injury in the war.


BOB DOLE: I'm feeling pretty good today. I'm just a little nervous and restless, but I'll be OK before long. I'm getting so I can move my right arm a little. I can also move my legs. Send me something to read and something to eat. Love, Bob. I'm always asking for things to eat.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

DOLE: But I was. I was sort of what they call lowballing it. And I didn't know myself how badly I was injured. You know, you're a young guy at 20 years old. I probably thought I'd get better.

INSKEEP: Did your parents ever talk to you in any detail about what they went through as they received these little scraps, these notices on what was happening to you in Italy?

DOLE: I don't recollect that they did. Maybe they did. I may have forgotten it. But when my mother first saw me, I - she just sort of sobbed uncontrollably, but then regained her composure. And...

INSKEEP: This is when you were finally brought home...

DOLE: ...driving up when I finally got home.

INSKEEP: ...In a cast and everything else.

DOLE: But they always were upbeat. They were always saying, well, things are going good at home and the grass is green and I'm mowing the lawn. You know, little things like that.

INSKEEP: They were lowballing it, just like you were.

DOLE: Yeah. And they were always smiling. My dad was a pretty tough guy, but you could tell by people's eyes if they'd been crying.

INSKEEP: There's almost a soundtrack to this book, if I can put it that way. You refer to the song "You'll Never Walk Alone"...

DOLE: Right.

INSKEEP: ...More than once.

DOLE: I drove my parents crazy, playing it on the record player we had. And I whistled it. I learned to whistle in the Army, and I know I probably bored some people to death and probably they left the room. But I think the deeper meaning is that I knew that I wasn't walking alone. I had my parents. I had the doctors. I had the nurses. I may have had somebody higher up keeping an eye on me. So it sort of fit the circumstances.

INSKEEP: I have to ask, can you still whistle it?

DOLE: I can't whistle anymore. I can do (whistling) - but it's not good. I used to be able - I could whistle and blow your mind, probably loud and clear. But I'm going to have to take it up again.

INSKEEP: You spent years...

DOLE: Yeah, years.

INSKEEP: ...In and out of different hospitals.

DOLE: About five - 39 months in and out of hospitals. Then about another year and a half so I could say I was sort of independent, where I could do everything but button my collar button. I had trouble putting on ties because I couldn't get my left arm up there for a while. But I was in good shape in five years.

INSKEEP: You decided to run for public office in 1950 after this long (unintelligible).

DOLE: Ran for the Legislature.

INSKEEP: And you recount very near the end of your story going up to that first person's door...

DOLE: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...To knock on their door and ask for their vote.

DOLE: That's hard to do.

INSKEEP: How did you learn to put people at ease?

DOLE: I think I picked that up from my father and then working in a drugstore, where - I worked in a little drugstore called Dawson's Drug Store in Russell, Kan. And if you didn't insult the customer, they wouldn't come back. I mean, they felt like they were coming in there to be insulted.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) You're not paying enough attention to me is what they could say.

DOLE: Yeah. And there was a fellow named Bub Dawson and Chet Dawson and Bob Dole - the three of us. We were pretty good at insulting about everybody. And it's a lot of fun. If you have a little sense of humor - and willing to take it, not just give it. You've got to be willing to take it, too. Self-deprecating humor is probably the best. That's how you put people at ease. I would use that in the Senate, on the Senate floor and meetings with my colleagues in both parties. I've always thought if you run against somebody, he's your opponent, not your enemy.

INSKEEP: Do you think that collegiality, if that's the word, is more rare than it used to be?

DOLE: I think so. I hope not, but I think so.

INSKEEP: Your former colleagues in the Senate are debating judgeships...

DOLE: Right.

INSKEEP: ...President Bush's judicial nominees. One thing under consideration by the Republican leadership is maneuvering to get rid of the filibusters.

DOLE: I think you have to be very careful - that's my advice - before you start tinkering with the rules. I mean, the rules have been changed before. You want to think down the road - you know, the Senate's going to change. It's not always going to be Republican. It changes back and forth. History shows that.

INSKEEP: If you were giving advice - and somehow, I imagine, someone might ask you once in a while - what would you suggest that Congress do to work in a more bipartisan fashion of the kind that you're talking about?

DOLE: I think it's up to the president to sort of wrap his arms around the leadership in both the House and the Senate. And I'm certain the president does this, but I can't emphasize how productive it might be to have this very close relationship with the leaders in the Congress. Take away the R's and the D's and treat them as legislators. And I've always thought if I were elected president, I'd have those guys down for breakfast, lunch and dinner (laughter), you know, every day of the week because I know how it works. I just say the president, whatever he's doing, he ought to do more.

INSKEEP: Senator Bob Dole speaking on this program in 2005. He lies in state at the Capitol today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.