Remembering Kansas’ own Bob Dole: Will we see his like again?

Remembering Kansas’ own Bob Dole: Will we see his like again?

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Ron Smith is a fifth-generation Kansan, a native of Manhattan, an attorney practicing in Larned, a grandfather several times over, a Vietnam veteran and a civil war historian.

Bob Dole died Sunday. He was 98 and battled lung cancer to the end. 

Dole has a lot of “onlys” to his name. He was the only American who lost a bid to be vice President (under Jerry Ford) and lost his own presidential bid, in 1996.

Most who knew him would call him a statesman. That label hardly fits anyone in Washington, D.C., these days. In fact, the 21st century has produced few statesmen in all levels of American government. Men and women in public office who do nothing but vilify the opposition and throw out conspiracy theories pandering to the masses are not statesmen.

I met with Dole twice. Once was in 1986, in his Senate office in Washington, when I was part of a delegation of Kansas lawyers touring the Capitol on a junket to be sworn in as members of the U S. Supreme Court Bar.

The second time was in Larned, when he came on a 2014 “last swing” tour through the state that he loved and served faithfully from 1960 to 1996. In the meeting at a local restaurant, I casually mentioned to him that politics had changed so much I didn’t think he or Nancy Kassebaum Baker, two of our best-ever senators, could be re-elected.

He smiled: “Nancy could.”

He will be remembered for that humor. At dinners he told people he was sorry he couldn’t cut his own steak. What would the former University of Kansas athlete do after nearly two years recovering in a military hospital from major war wounds? He said he would look for indoor work with no heavy lifting.

He delighted in telling folks that among his proudest achievements while in Washington was “I married well.”

Historian Jon Meacham, in his eulogy for George H. W. Bush, said Bush 41 was “the last great-soldier statesman.” I believe the same will be said of Dole. In the Senate that Dole presided over as Republican leader, he and Danny Inouye of Hawaii were visible senator-statesmen who gave limbs to their country’s service in World War II.

Shrapnel from a German shell in Italy in April 1945 caused major wounds to Dole. He was left with a broken spine and unable to use one arm. For a long time during his two-year recovery, he was paralyzed, and his temperature once spiked to 109 degrees.

Inouye lost his arm to a grenade blast and won the Congressional Medal of Honor as part of the famed 442nd Infantry regiment made up entirely of gutsy Japanese-Americans. Dole and Inouye were of different parties but worked together on many issues. That statesmanship is sorely lacking in Washington.


Working across the aisle is a lot harder than drawing lines in the sand. Politicians who draw lines in the sand are just power seekers. They do not solve problems. Any problem that can be solved with half measures, a little at a time, is still being solved.

– Ron Smith

Working across the aisle is a lot harder than drawing lines in the sand. Politicians who draw lines in the sand are just power seekers. They do not solve problems. Any problem that can be solved with half measures, a little at a time, is still being solved.

Compromise can be noble, not reckless, as some in the Congress now idiotically claim. Compromise is built into our system. We have only two parties. In 1787 when we crafted the Constitution, there was little sentiment to adopt an English-style parliament. We had just beaten the Brits in a nasty little revolution; why turn around and adopt their political system? Unless one party has overwhelming numbers, to get anything done some compromise must occur. Our Constitution was designed that way. Otherwise, we stagnate.

Some congressmen and senators of both parties believe doing nothing is just fine, that whatever the opposition wants, they’re against. That’s operating a parliament, not the Congress of the United States.

Dole’s legislative trail is impressive. He had a lot to do with enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act, for obvious reasons. In Congress, he also voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of ’65, two important steps toward fixing the old Jim Crow system and establishing racial justice. He also spent countless hours promoting the World War II Memorial.

He helped Democrats, too.

Dole supported former two-term governor John Carlin in his prestigious appointment as archivist of the United States, overseeing the agency where the history of our country is cataloged and documented. His reach across the aisle includes President Joe Biden, who describes Dole as a “close friend.” Dole plainly said after the 2020 election that Biden had won. He was not a promoter of former President Donald Trump’s Big Lie. As a lawyer, Dole viewed the case in a simple manner: If there was election fraud, he was more interested in seeing the evidence than hearing conspiracy theories.

Dole will be remembered as a great politician and statesman who did good things for everyone, and all Kansans. James F. Clark best describes Dole: “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.”

That’s Dole. Without statesmen in the front ranks of public office, we have a second-rate country. My fear is we will see men and women of his quality no more.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Picture of Dean Halliday Smith

Dean Halliday Smith

Dean Halliday Smith is a fifth generation Kansan, a Vietnam vet, a lawyer, and grandfather several times over. His interests are Bleeding Kansas territorial days, the civil war, and post-war western novels.

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