Saturday, February 02, 2008
'Bob Dole' Rides Again
Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. With that in mind, if John McCain wins the Republican presidential nomination, it might be appropriate to temporarily designate the site of the 2008 Republican convention an insane asylum.
Well, a Republican doesn’t need to spend much time on a political analyst’s couch before depressing memories of the 1996 presidential election—also known as the Bob Dole debacle—are dredged up. If you’re old enough to remember that frightening experience, but still too traumatized to recall it, perhaps a brief history of those times will ease you into a more reflective state of mind.
Bob Dole lost a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. Like most Republicans before him, he patiently bided his time as the next nominee-in-waiting. In 1996 Dole faltered badly in early primaries, but thanks to favorable media coverage, the desire of many to reward a former soldier for his heroic service to country, and polls showing Dole the strongest Republican candidate in a general election, his campaign was resurrected. Dole went on to win the Republican nomination.
Already past his 70th birthday, Dole would have been the oldest first term president in the history of the country. He looked and sounded even older when juxtaposed on debate platforms next to a much younger and culturally in-tune Democrat. Age wasn’t the only debate deficiency. Acerbic, poorly delivered quips endeared Dole to reporters and close associates but bombed outside the Washington D.C. beltway. Most often he was the only one awkwardly laughing at his own one-liners. His general communication skills and television presence paled in comparison to those of the Democratic candidate. He lost every debate.
His supposed greatest asset—military experience—was probably more of a liability than an asset. He acquired it more than four decades before the nomination. Military tactics, weaponry and threats in the 90’s—primarily defending against terrorist attacks inspired by militant Islamists—were light-years removed from anything Dole experienced during his time in the military.
And though national security was a concern, voters were more worried about the economy—something Dole showed little interest in and was ill prepared to deal with. After leaving military service Dole was soon elected to public office. He had virtually no adult experience in the private business sector. Instead, his resume offered decades of experience hanging with lobbyists and cutting deals with politicians in Washington D.C.
Unfortunately for Dole and the Republican Party, voters were more interested in electing a president who clearly communicated an energetic vision of the future with a particular emphasis on growing the U.S. economy in a rapidly changing world economy. They had little interest in electing a man who was mired in the past and whose entire professional experience was acquired in Washington D.C.
Dole’s pre-nomination favorability in national polls plummeted as voters came to know the real Bob Dole and not the fictional Dole created by pundits and zealous supporters. In the end, Dole was clobbered by almost ten percentage points and retired quietly to other pursuits, including a stint as a spokesman for Viagra.
In retrospect, there couldn’t have been a more fitting summation of the impotent 1996 campaign than a Viagra gig for Dole.
If you haven’t already figured out what this rehash of the Dole debacle has to do with Republican insanity, in the preceding paragraphs replace the name Dole with the name McCain and update the dates to the current election cycle. The Dole facts when applied to McCain aren’t just similar—they are identical. So why would anyone expect a different result?
That’s why Republicans should honor McCain’s service in some manner other than a presidential nomination. Maybe we could name a bridge to somewhere after him. But let’s not waste another election opportunity like we did in 1996. Repeating that mistake would truly be insane.