Home / World News / A Chicken-Fried McGovern, Newt’s Good Ideas and the Senate Zoo: A Dole One-Liner Sampler

A Chicken-Fried McGovern, Newt’s Good Ideas and the Senate Zoo: A Dole One-Liner Sampler

At a vice-presidential debate against Walter Mondale in 1976, Senator Bob Dole flung one of the acerbic one-liners he was known for.

“If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century,” he said, “it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

It did not go over well. Under fire even from some fellow Republicans, Mr. Dole denied using the phrase “Democrat wars,” then did damage control. His point, a spokesman said, had been that it was as unfair to blame Democrats for those wars as it was to blame President Gerald Ford — who was at the top of the ticket Mr. Dole was running on — for Watergate.

As a Republican vice-presidential candidate, Mr. Dole campaigned in October 1976 in Fort Wayne, Ind., alongside Gov. Otis R. Bowen of Indiana.Credit…The New York Times Archives

The only thing that stood out about the episode was that Mr. Dole seemed to recognize he had taken his characteristic sarcasm too far.

But he never stopped using it — against Democrats, Republicans and often himself. After his death on Sunday at age 98, here is a sampling of his sharp tongue, including his jabs at supply-side economics and his venomous letter to a former White House official.

In his first campaign for the presidency, in 1980, Mr. Dole joined the pile-on against President Jimmy Carter.

“I once called Carter a chicken-fried McGovern,” Mr. Dole said, referring to the former Democratic nominee George McGovern. “And I take that back because I’ve come to respect McGovern.”

Much like Mr. McGovern’s 1972 general election campaign, Mr. Dole’s 1980 primary campaign crashed and burned. He won just 607 votes in New Hampshire.

If 1980 was a bad year for him, it was a great year for his party: Ronald Reagan won the presidency and Republicans retook the Senate. But Mr. Dole was less than happy with the particular Republicans who had done so, some of whom he felt had risen on an anti-Democratic wave rather than on their own merits.

“If we had known we were going to win control of the Senate,” he said, “we’d have run better candidates.”

In 1982, as members of the Senate Finance Committee worked late on a bill to eliminate billions in tax breaks, Mr. Dole declared that lobbyists and lawyers “may be wearing Guccis tonight, but they’ll be barefoot by morning.”

As the Democratic primary elections got underway in 1984, Mr. Dole commented on the failing presidential campaign of Senator Ernest F. Hollings with a jab whose relevance to his own campaign was surely not lost on him.

“The early campaign has shown that Fritz Hollings has the best sense of humor,” he said. “And with 1 percent of the vote, he’ll need it.”

Four years later, Mr. Dole again ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination. Accused of lacking “vision,” he said: “We thought of having a vision-of-the-month club just for the media. They’d say, ‘That’s the wrong vision,’ and I’d say, ‘That’s all right, I got another one.’”

Mr. Dole reached the apex of his career after Republicans seized control of Congress in 1994, making him the Senate majority leader. The victory was led by Representative Newt Gingrich, who would become speaker of the House. But Mr. Dole was not a fan.

“You hear Gingrich’s staff has these five file cabinets, four big ones and one little tiny one,” he told The New York Times Magazine in 1995. “No. 1 is ‘Newt’s Ideas.’ No. 2, ‘Newt’s Ideas.’ No. 3, No. 4, ‘Newt’s Ideas.’ The little one is ‘Newt’s Good Ideas.’”

Later that year, during a government shutdown, Mr. Dole and Mr. Gingrich announced that they supported paying federal workers who were furloughed because of the shutdown.

Wasn’t it absurd, a reporter asked, to pay workers to stay home rather than just have them work?

Mr. Dole — whose home state, Kansas, benefited from federal payments to farmers to leave some land fallow for environmental reasons — replied, “It’s like a farm program.”

According to The Tampa Bay Times, Senator John McCain of Arizona liked to tell a story about a dinner Senate Republicans had with President Bill Clinton. Someone asked Mr. Clinton if he had read a murder mystery written by a Republican senator, and the president said yes, noting, “It’s a Democratic senator who gets murdered.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Dole said. “It has a happy ending.”

In 1996, Mr. Dole ran for president once more.

When one of his rivals for the Republican nomination, Pat Buchanan, accused him of distorting Mr. Buchanan’s record, The Orlando Sentinel reported, “Dole mumbled that he was only reporting what he had read in Buchanan’s syndicated columns, and he just always assumed they were accurate.”

Mr. Dole won the nomination. (He then lost to Mr. Clinton, 159 electoral votes to 379.) His running mate was Jack Kemp, a former football player who had spent 18 years in the House of Representatives, and whom Mr. Dole had previously mocked.

“There was a certain football player who forgot his helmet and then started talking supply-side theory,” Mr. Dole said in an undated remark recounted by The Tampa Bay Times.

It was not the first time Mr. Dole had expressed disdain for supply-side economics, the Reaganite gospel that cutting taxes and decreasing regulations would strengthen the economy enough to recoup lost tax revenue.

“A bus filled with supply-siders goes over the cliff, killing all aboard,” he once said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that there were three unoccupied seats.”

Not that he supported raising taxes.

“I remember one day on the floor, I said, ‘Now, gentlemen, let me tax your memories,’” he said in one of his presidential debates with Mr. Clinton, name-checking Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. “And Kennedy jumped up and said, ‘Why haven’t we thought of that before?’”

Because he had given up his Senate seat to run for president, Mr. Dole had no job to return to after he lost.

In a startling move, he agreed to star in a commercial for Viagra when it was introduced in 1998. He knew that talking about erectile dysfunction was “a little embarrassing,” he said in the ad, “but it’s so important to millions of men and their partners.”

Mr. Dole embraced the association, including on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” in 2002. After Mr. Leno mentioned research showing that Viagra might cause blindness in rare cases, Mr. Dole emerged to roars of laughter from the audience.

“That’s a lot of rubbish, Jay,” he said. “I hate to see this misinformation being spread. I know a little about Viagra, Bob Dole knows a little about Viagra, and my vision is perfect. It’s 20/20.

“And,” he said, pointing to Mr. Leno’s band leader, “you ought to know better, Jay Leno.”

Mr. Dole was a repeat guest on late-night shows. He fired off several one-liners in an appearance on the “Late Show” with David Letterman in 1998, including musing on the length of his Senate career: 35 and a half years.

Of course, he added, “Senator Thurmond’s been there — well, let’s see, he came in with Chester Arthur.”

When Mr. Letterman asked if he still visited the Senate, Mr. Dole replied, “I don’t go up very often, because I can’t vote anymore and the rest of them vote wrong.”

Mr. Dole was not above criticizing the institution he spent 35 years in. “If you’re hanging around with nothing to do and the zoo is closed, come over to the Senate,” he once said, according to former Senator Ben Nelson’s memoir. “You’ll get the same kind of feeling and you won’t have to pay.”

Like many members of the old guard of Republicans, Mr. Dole became increasingly critical of the party’s direction — but still endorsed Donald J. Trump for president in 2016.

The Republican National Committee should put up a sign “that says ‘closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas,” he told Fox News in 2013. Discussing who could be elected in today’s party, he added: “Reagan wouldn’t have made it. Certainly Nixon couldn’t have made it, because he had ideas.”

There was some irony to the criticism, because Mr. Dole had excoriated a former White House press secretary who wrote a critical book about the George W. Bush administration.

“There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don’t have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues,” he wrote in a blistering 2008 letter to the former official, Scott McClellan, adding: “When the money starts rolling in you should donate it to a worthy cause, something like, ‘Biting the Hand That Fed Me.’”

But Mr. Dole was nothing if not self-aware.

“I was supposed to go for the jugular,” he once said, reflecting on his “Democrat wars” comment in 1976. “And I did — my own.”

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