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Opinion | I Was Bob Dole’s Press Secretary. This Is What I Learned From Him.



Mr. Dole, arguably the greatest American practitioner of the laconic phrase since Calvin Coolidge, often found that his humor was lost on reporters a fraction of his age.

Once, on the campaign plane, a reporter asked Mr. Dole a stock question: What was the one thing he wanted every voter to know about him?

He could have answered like a politician and spouted a bumper sticker slogan or summoned a tear. Instead, he dismissed the silly question with a simple, “Beats me.”

What followed, of course, were tin-eared stories about Mr. Dole lacking a sense of vision, written by reporters lacking a sense of humor.

Yet, he didn’t take it personally. He rarely vilified a reporter for doing the job of reporting. Once almost left for dead on a battlefield in World War II, he had seen worse than a bad story or even a lost election.

True, Mr. Dole lost in 1996 and he had no illusions about who would take the blame. The capsule summary of that campaign casts him as a weak candidate.

But by then, American politics were already on the path to the polarized and poisonous place we occupy today. If Bob Dole’s authenticity and reluctance to engage in artifice or demonizing his opponents were weaknesses, does that say more about him or about what politics were becoming?

Bob Dole was principled and even partisan, yes. But he leavened his fighting spirit with humility, humor and respect. If that made him weak, American politics would be stronger with more weakness.

Nelson Warfield is a political media consultant who was national press secretary for Senator Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.

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