(Dec. 6) Bob Dole was quite simply the greatest U.S. senator and the greatest American who served in the Senate of our lifetime.

He was great not because he survived once, twice, thrice, four separate times when he was fully expected to die but because of what he did in the 77-plus years after he survived the immediate wounds that left him helpless — paralyzed, that is, lying in his own blood on an Italian hillside for six hours after Nazi ordnance shattered his shoulder and badly damaged his neck and spine. When the field surgeon “opened Dole up, there wasn’t much to go by: nothing was in the right place, and half of it wasn’t there,” wrote Richard Ben Cramer in the book What It Takes. “They just sewed him back up. Nothing more to do. If he lived, sure as hell, he was never going to walk. Of course, they didn’t tell him that.”

But Dole moved his toes. He found he could move some fingers. And he agonizingly learned to move other parts of his body, one at a time, during the course of 39 months of excruciating, death-defying convalescence.

Eventually, Bob Dole moved the world.

And this, this is what people today still do not appreciate about Robert J. Dole. Yes, all the encomiums about Dole, in all the news outlets recounting his death on Dec. 5 at age 98, talk about how he was the classic “get it done” legislative tactician, a guy who cobbled together agreements by sweating out the small print and figuring out how to satisfy other politicians’ demands. Those accounts are true.

More than any other senator in memory, Dole, through sheer, stubborn tenacity, made the political system work, and every time the system worked, it subtly kept alive the public’s civic faith. It is no coincidence that the same faith, alas, steadily has eroded in the quarter-century since Dole left office.

What those accounts too often miss, though, is how much substance, how much benefit to the nation that Dole loved flowed from all those deals that gave new life to bills seemingly left for dead on the legislative battlefield…. [The full column is at this link.]


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