After decades of reticence on the subject, Bob Dole is now shedding his native self-effacement to advertise his courageous recovery from paralyzing war injuries to make a career in the Senate.
Unfortunately, under Bob Dole's stewardship, the Senate itself has been paralyzed, so now Bob Dole is shedding his legislative image, as well. Off goes the dark suit, on goes the blazer and as Bob Dole speaks to the American people as GOP presidential candidate presumptive, Bob Dole is without office, authority or necktie.
"We have a moral obligation to give our children an America with the opportunity and values of the nation we grew up in," the bare-necked retiree says to begin a Republican National Committee campaign spot called "The Story," from the New Century Media Group, Washington. What follows is a voice-over narration of very old photos and film clips documenting war, patriotism and valor.
"I went around looking for a miracle to make me whole again," Bob Dole says. Yes, and he's looking around again, because his opponent has had a miraculous recovery of his own.
President Clinton spent the first three years of his term on the run. He lost on his economic stimulus package, on healthcare, on gays in the military and on 71 of his first 72 nominees for attorney general. Then he lost both houses of Congress.
He is being sued for sexual harassment. Three of his Arkansas cronies have just been convicted of felonies and there is talk about an obstruction of justice indictment against the first lady herself. He has American soldiers, unpopularly, in harm's way in Bosnia, and his peace partner in Israel has just been voted out of office.
And, in the polls, he is ahead by 20 points.
This is because the stock market is gangbusters, unemployment and inflation are low, and the world is substantially at peace. It is because Americans have yet to show much interest in either Whitewater or Clinton's extramarital adventures. It is because he has metamorphosed in the past six months into a demi-Republican and pre-empted most of the GOP platform. It is because to the degree Bill Clinton is regarded as the problem, a career politician and notorious sourpuss is not the obvious answer.
And it is because Bob Dole is older than Clinton's mother, who is dead.
Thus has the Dole campaign embarked on a three-pronged strategy: 1) to portray Bob Dole as a courageous patriot and man of character; 2) to attack the president's points of weakness, as it does in a spot called "Even More Talk," a clip reel of hilariously conflicting Clinton promises on a balanced budget; 3) to hope a photograph surfaces of young Bill Clinton smoking marijuana with a KGB section chief while burning his draft card with his pants down.
That such a picture hasn't surfaced bodes poorly for Bob Dole, who again sums up the problem in his own handsome, positive, but mainly unilluminating image spot.
"It all comes down to values," Bob Dole says. "What you believe in, what Bob Dole sacrificed for and what you stand for."
This commercial makes clear what Bob Dole believes in, and what Bob Dole sacrificed for. But on the last point, all we know so far is that Bob Dole stands for election.