Sunday, August 26, 2012

DISCUSSION: Chapters Seventy Nine to Ninety


So much of this section is about who and what Bob Dole is. It's something of a familiar pattern in What It Takes: we see a person struggle to control his public image, fail, and then wallow in the popular perception before he washes out. Some go out with a bang (Hart, Biden). Others, a whimper.

Bob Dole is from Russell, the Dust Bowl town that nurtured Bob after birth and near-death. When he becomes the vice presidential nominee, he and Ford go to Russell, where Bina is overwhelmed and Bob gets choked up. He fights for Gerald Ford, with the responsibility of winning 130,000 votes a day. And in the end, had less than 10,000 votes in Ohio and Hawaii been different, they would have done it. Though not according to Barbara Walters, who had the nerve to ask Bob, sick and worn with exhaustion, didn't he think that he had lost the election for Jerry Ford?

This cigar box . . .
So Bob went back to work, and twelve years later, Bub Dawson opened the 1988 Dole campaign with a story of how Russell brought Bob back from the war. "There was a cigar box on the counter with Bob Dole's name on it." The citizens pitched in to help Bob get back on his feet. Now, the cigar box was back, and the citizens of Russell had packed it once more, this time with $135,000 for Bob's campaign.

It was a different Bob Dole by '88. In 1974, he'd been in a fight for his life -- his first Senate re-election, his first campaign since his divorce from Phyllis, and with Watergate hanging over his head (metaphorically and literally: he lived there!) It was a vicious campaign, and Bob proved to be the most vicious. And when he returns too the Senate and works with George McGovern(!) on feeding the hungry(!) . . .  people went looking for why Bob Dole was Nice.

"Whah, yes!"
They found the answer in the Southern spark plug from Salisbury, Elizabeth. Washington loved a neat explanation. She was the "Nice coach" teaching Bob "how to Be Nice!" (The mystery woman who Bob's Kansas friends watched, wide-eyed, as she packed away the chicken noodle butterball and cherry pie and still kept her figure.) Elizabeth was a force of nature who scared most Capitol Hill men to death. But not Bob Dole. They were going places together.

George Bush was always going places. That's why Bar liked China so much: George had nothing to do at night, few appointments in the afternoon. They had lived so many places, but at the consulate, they actually lived together.

George's career of public service had taken on a pattern -- a holding pattern. George waited patiently for his turn as he was passed over or screwed by three successive presidents. Nixon considered him for VP, then took his trust, sullied his standing. Ford took him as CIA director and ruled him out for the '76 ticket. Carter wouldn't keep Bush on as "Head Spook" to make an agency-above-politics statement. (That burned George up.) Then it was seven years with Reagan's consolation prize, and by the time Bush announced in '87, the writing was on the wall: "WIMP." George Bush was -- as George Bush might say -- a 'weenie.' Newsweek had screwed him on the day of his announcement with that cover.

And so he put his foot down and made a speech that said, "I Am A Man." Albeit, "I am a man who . . ." but a man nonetheless. It was a message Bush carried all the way to his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

As the Democrats go, Duke was running sans message. Michael deserved to be president, he believed, by the content of his gubernatorial conduct and not the color of his personality. He was running for "National Governor." And when Susan Estrich came in and saw how Michael and Sasso had done things, well, she had thoughts. "I don't understand how you ran this thing for six months without a fucking thing to say!"

Dick Gephardt now had too much to say: so much attack in him that his killers were worried he was too aggressive. Dick had to knock off Paul Simon ("Bambi" in Joe Trippi's estimation) Bruce Babbitt ("Son of Bambi"), and Al Gore. Gephardt sparred with $2,000-an-hour-worth of Washington lawyers to practice. And then he killed too hard. Shrum and the others were taken aback. "They wanted him to kill, but be himself, but show some balls, but Presidential . . . and there were no answers." This was the most expensive advice a guy could buy.

How wonderful to be running for president. 

The Best of The Bobster's Burns

Bob yukking, 1971
Before he learned to "Be Nice," Bob Dole had a rep as the toughest campaign hatchet man there was. Here's a sample of his zingers (some were doozies) from this section.

"Go home and ask your parents if they know how many abortions Bill Roy has performed."

"used to call him southern-fried McGovern . . . but I have a lot of respect for Senator McGovern."

"I figured up, the other day: if we added up the killed and wounded in the Democrat wars, in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans . . . enough to fill the city of Detroit!"

"Carter's got three positions on everything. That's why he wants three debates."

"I thought I was very friendly. I called him 'Fritz' a couple of times. He called me 'hatchet man.'"

1 comment:

  1. The way Cramer talks about these candidates, I feel like I know them personally. And amazingly, I find I like all of them - although some more than others.