McConnell Remarks Honoring Sen. Bob Dole
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the passing of former Senator Bob Dole:
“It is hard to believe it’s been 25 years since Senator Robert J. Dole took leave of the Senate. It’s even harder to believe he passed away this past weekend.
“Not because it comes as a shock to say goodbye to an elder statesman at age 98… but because our colleague was still so energetic, so involved, and so forward-looking, right through to his final months.
“If you didn’t know Bob Dole, if you just read a summary — of his impressive Senate career, his leadership tenure, his presidential campaign — he might sound like a man of contrasts.
“On one hand, our friend from Kansas preached conservative values: personal responsibility and fiscal discipline. But this son of the Dust Bowl and wounded warrior was also laser-focused on caring for the most vulnerable, notching landmark wins on subjects from food insecurity to veterans’ issues to the rights of disabled Americans.
“On one hand, Senator Dole took pride in our Republican Party. He rose to key roles that were necessarily somewhat partisan, first leading our Senate Republican Conference for many years and then leading a presidential ticket. But he was also a consensus-finding legislator, an honest broker with deep friendships and working relationships that spanned the aisle.
“On one hand, our colleague was earnest, unironic, and somewhat serious — a true Greatest Generation Midwesterner. But he also wielded a charming, disarming, and self-deprecating sense of humor, whether he was cracking one-liners, often at his own expense, or doing a joint appearance with his comic impersonator.
“Allow me just one example of Bob Dole’s comedic talent.
“In January of 1997, just after President Clinton had defeated Bob and won his re-election, the President graciously bestowed on Bob the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“There they were, in mid-January, just three days before the day Bob had spent months hoping he’d be inaugurated, but President Clinton would be re-inaugurated instead. It was a gracious gesture and a warm event all around.
“The time comes for Bob’s remarks. He walks to the podium. Looks around. And he begins:
“‘I, Robert J. Dole…’ The crowd is already cracking up.
“‘Do solemnly swear…’ Then a theatrical pause.
“‘Oh, sorry – wrong speech!’
“Once the laughs began to die down, there came the self-deprecating punchline: ‘I thought I’d be here this historic week receiving something from the President. But I thought it’d be the front door key!’
“The thing is, Madam President, there was no contradiction in any of it. No paradox. Bob’s life and career were very consistent.
“The virtues and the values that led Bob Dole to raise his right hand, enlist in the Army, and fight bravely until he could not raise that hand any longer… were the same virtues and values that compelled him to raise his left hand for a different oath in the Kansas State Capitol a few years later.
“And then across the Rotunda in the U.S. House. And then here in the Senate.
“The same virtues and values that animated Bob’s passionate, pointed speeches in the 1960s about a citizen’s duty animated his great empathy towards those who needed help.
“With Bob Dole, what you saw was what you got. And from his comrades in the 10th Mountain Division… to his constituents in Kansas… to the whole Senate and the entire country… what we got was extraordinary.
“I cannot summarize in one speech the full life or legacy of our friend Bob. There are the battlefield heroics… the hospital-bed friendship with fellow future Senators Phil Hart and ‘the best bridge player at Percy Jones Hospital,’ Dan Inouye… There’s the policy legacy that endures to this day.
“These remembrances will take Congress this whole week. And they’ll occupy historians for decades to come.
“Bob Dole had the same chief hero for his entire adult life: His fellow son of Kansas, a General and then a President, Dwight Eisenhower.
“Bob didn’t just like Ike, he idolized him. In Senator Dole’s Senate farewell speech in 1996, he saved the second-to-last quotation for his hero from Abilene, Kansas. He kept his foot personally on the gas pedal for the Eisenhower Memorial here in Washington well into his nineties. He invoked and praised Ike constantly throughout his career.
“One such occasion was in late 1979. An event was held at Eisenhower’s boyhood home, presidential library, and gravesite in Abilene, on what would have been his 89th birthday. It so happened that only a couple weeks later, Mrs. Eisenhower would pass away and be laid to rest there as well.
“On that day, Senator Dole explained that America had gotten ‘lucky.’
“Why? Because — quote — ‘when we were thirsty for leadership, we turned to a man from Kansas, a genuine hero who embodied in his own life the finest qualities of the American people…’
“‘…A man from grassroots America, steeped in the traditions of neighborhood and patriotism and service… A strong man who earned his strength in war, yet never forgot the disease of poverty or the scourge of personal suffering.’
“Bob was always eloquent, and those lines of his certainly did describe Ike. But now that our friend’s 98 amazing years have come to a close, we can say with certainty that Eisenhower isn’t the only Kansan who meets those standards.
“Not only General Eisenhower, but also Second Lieutenant Robert J. Dole himself, was a genuine hero from Kansas… who helped satisfy a nation’s thirst for leadership…
“Who was steeped in homespun American values and proud of it… Who’d fought with great courage and valor on the battlefield… And whose concern for the most vulnerable in our society came right with him into the halls of power.
“I mentioned that Eisenhower was Bob’s second-to-last quotation in his farewell remarks to the Senate. I want to close today where he closed 25 years ago.
“Musing on both his past and his future, our colleague’s final quote was from the Midwestern poet Carl Sandburg: ‘Yesterday is a wind gone down, a sun dropped in the West. I tell you that there is nothing in the world, only an ocean for tomorrows, a sky of tomorrow.’
“Now, for our remarkable friend, the sun of this world has set at last.
“But we pray in faith that he now beholds an even brighter light. That the endless ocean of tomorrows now stretches before him.
“The entire Senate sends our prayers to Elizabeth and Robin, and to so many family, friends, and former staff of Senator Dole.
“The whole country stands with you — not only in grief, but in gladness and thanksgiving, for almost a century that was lived so patriotically, so gratefully, and so well.”
Related Issues: Tributes