Thursday, March 31, 2011

1996: Bob Dole's Nomination

Lately both Drum and BooMan have been having a bit of sport with the feckless GOP field for the '12 nomination. Just to prove that life imitates art, the Reagan Library has announced that the first GOP debate has been postponed until September for lack of interest. You couldn't make something like that up.

In order to show anyone exasperated with Obama that it could always be worse, here's a look back at Bill Clinton's hapless 1996 challenger, Bob Dole. Of course the current crop of GOP hopefuls make Dole look like Dennis Kucinich, but it bears repeating: it could always be worse.

For the past three years, this space has been critical of Bill Clinton more often than not. Since I never supported him in the first place, I can't say I'm disillusioned by his performance, but I can say it's even worse than I expected. From the anti-labor and anti-environmental NAFTA and GATT treaties, to the odious crime bill, the "anti-terrorism" legislation that suspends the right of habeas corpus, and the profoundly misguided telecommunications bill, Clinton's record has been a sorry litany of disasters for working Americans, and victories for plutocrats and oligarchs.

Having said that, it's time to point out that the Republican Party has managed to nominate someone even worse. Last night I watched Bob Dole give "the most important speech of his career." Like most political speeches, it was full of lies. One of my favorites was his characterization of Clinton's 1993 tax increase as the "biggest in history." This was red meat for the GOP delegates, but conveniently overlooked the 1982 tax increase pushed through the Senate by Majority Leader Bob Dole. Both in constant dollars and as a percentage of GDP, Dole's tax increase was bigger than Clinton's. And, as noted previously in this space, the 1983 Social Security tax increase-also shepherded by Dole-is the all-time champ.



Dole was also disingenuous in charging that Clinton had raised taxes on the middle class, when in fact marginal rates were raised only on the wealthy. The only tax raised on the rest of us was the gasoline tax, still the lowest by far in the industrialized world. Dole, of course, was ready to cancel this sensible increase in the name of political expediency.

And speaking of expediency, what does it say about the GOP ticket that Jack Kemp could so quickly jettison his conscience on affirmative action and immigration? I don't know why I should be surprised by anything politicians do, but this strikes me as unusually cowardly.

Virtually any criticism that can be made of Clinton can also be applied to Dole, from lying about his military record to a hypocritical fealty to family values not borne out in his private life. Indeed, my list above of Clinton's sins contains none that passed without Bob Dole's assent. This makes the GOP nominee's attack on Clinton's trade policies particularly galling.

For a more accurate picture of Bob Dole than the shrinkwrapped version displayed on television this week, I heartily recommend Stanley G. Hilton's book, Senator for Sale (St. Martin's, 1995). Hilton, who used to work for Dole, paints a picture of a petty, vindictive, and meanspirited man, and a politician whose corruption is as blatant as any in Washington. While the excesses of Newt are largely responsible for Clinton's higher polling numbers, it should be noted that Dole is equally ready to allow corporate lobbyists to write our nation's laws, and equally ready to dispense welfare for the rich. Dole has simply been less likely to insert foot in mouth than his colleague in the House.

In fact, if there's one thing to be said for Bob Dole, it's his sense of humor. My favorite line of his came from Hubert Humphrey's funeral. Faced with the surreal spectacle of Presidents Carter, Ford and Nixon in the same room at the same time, Dole commented: "Well, there they go-See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Evil."

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