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POWELL: Remembering Bob Dole

The last time I talked with Bob Dole it was nearing sunset on a glorious late October afternoon in 1988. On that occasion, he displayed his trademark trait, the quality that brought him attention and, all too often, got him in trouble: His sense of humor.

It’s a quality most politicians highly value, but which is sadly lacking in today’s political arena.

It all began on Monday, March 7, 1988. I was a young TV reporter and the Kansas senator was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. (His second of three tries.) Dole was doing a “fly around” on the eve of the next day’s Super Tuesday when 20 states (and American Samoa) would hold their primaries and caucuses. I was waiting when his plane touched down in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which would be voting the next day.

Dole walked up to me on the tarmac, extended his left hand, and said, “Hi, Bob Dole. How am I looking here tomorrow?” I told him my father and then-fiancé were planning on voting for him. He asked, “What about you?” I smiled and with suitable vagueness for a journalist answered, “We’ll see.”

Fast forward seven months to the lovely late Indian summer evening I mentioned earlier. Dole was doing yet another round of fly-around interviews, this time on behalf of George H. W. Bush, the Republican nominee, who would be facing Democrat Michael Dukakis at the ballot box a few days later.

Once again there was the outstretched left hand and the friendly greeting. “Hello, I’m Bob Dole,” he said. He did not remember me. Not that I expected he would. I was one of literally hundreds of reporters he had spoken to since our last encounter. And let’s be honest: When you’ve met one reporter, you’ve met them all.

Still, I prompted his memory, hoping it might spark a faint recollection. “Yes, we met here at this very airport last March on the day before Super Tuesday. I told you my father and fiancé were voting for you.”

Dole instantly shot back: “You needed a bigger family.”

That lightning-quick retort was witty, slightly self-deprecating, even a tad charming. It was vintage Bob Dole.

There were times—a lot of times, in fact—when his sense of humor landed him in hot water. There were occasions when he went too far, when the joke was more ferocious than funny, more dour than droll.

You certainly didn’t want to be on the receiving end of his tongue when he was angry, either. Remember what he famously snapped at Bush on live TV during the heat of the ’88 primary campaign? “Stop lying about my record.”

And it didn’t take a psychiatrist to see much disappointment was festering just below the surface, hurts that often came out in ways that bordered on self-pity. That less-than-flattering side of his personality was brilliantly captured in Dan Aykroyd’s devastatingly spot-on “Saturday Night Live” impersonation.

Yet there was far more of the “good Dole” humor than the bad. It was filled with warmth, even a passion, that made this most inside of all Washington Insiders human and approachable. You may not agree with what he said, but you couldn’t keep a smile from spreading across your face when you heard him say it.

Much has changed about politics in general and Washington in particular since Dole’s day. Jocularity has gone the way of the dodo. What passes for humor today is using laughter to belittle the opposition. Politicians rarely, if ever, make fun of themselves anymore. In a climate where everyone sees themselves as utterly right and everyone who disagrees with them as totally wrong, DC is now as merry as Josef Stalin’s Moscow.

That’s truly a pity. Because in an age when there is so little to be amused about, a little laughter would go a long way. Our political leaders could lead by example by laughing at themselves, their flaws, foibles, and failures a little more often.

“You needed a bigger family.” Thanks for the chuckle, Senator Dole. It’s still making me smile 33 years later.

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FLOWERS: SNL’s Insufferable Elitism A Laugh-Free Floperoo

I’ve been watching “Saturday Night Live” since my freshman year of high school. That was 1975, its inaugural season. My mother and father didn’t restrict my viewing, although there wasn’t anything too offensive other than some fallow years of mediocre ‘Not Ready For Primetime (Or Any Other Time) Players,’ and bad writing.

I loved the Tina Fey years (mean girl jokes about Palin notwithstanding), the Dana Carvey years, the Gilda Radner years, the Bill Murray, the Chris Rock, the Martin Short years, and of course the Eddie Murphy years. Comedy gold.

And even though the quality has dipped in recent times, there is still that nugget of hilarity you find nestled in among the Pete Davidson dreck. It’s usually enough to make me overlook the hyper-progressive political pandering of the show which, during the Trump years, perfected the art of ridiculing conservatives. Tina was snarky towards Sarah in a previous iteration, but the whole cast was a heat-seeking missile aimed at insulting Trump voters. It’s okay. I can stomach most of it. We all can.

But this Saturday was the first time I actually threw something at the television.

In an opening sketch about the recent gubernatorial race in Virginia, one of the punchlines was about how ironic it was that education became a central issue in the race since Glenn Youngkin’s voters didn’t go to college.

It was stated as a fact, and just like that, an entire group of people was defined as uneducated (and likely toothless) simply because they voted against the wizened, desiccated ghost of Terry McAuliffe.

Normally, I’d roll my eyes and move on. But this one hit a nerve. Lately, Democrats and other progressives have made a point to highlight the importance of education in their campaigns. That’s understandable as the bloodletting at school board meetings across the country has attracted national attention and thrown a negative light on troubling progressive agendas.

But in campaign ad after campaign ad, in op-ed after op-ed, and pouring from the mouths of cable news commentators like the fetid water from stone gargoyle fountains is the idea that conservatives are too stupid to understand the issues. They gaslight us with claims that Critical Race Theory is a myth, wonder why we want our children to die of the COVID plague. and think books about sodomy are cultural enrichment.

When the writers at SNL suggested that only stupid people could have voted for Youngkin, my Italian-Irish blood reached a slow boil. To avoid third-degree burns, I turned off the TV and tweeted this:

SNL just called people who voted for Glenn Youngkin “people who didn’t go to college.”

Like my mother. My grandmother. My grandfather.

Best people I ever met, outside of my father, who worked his way through college at night while sweating through blue-collar jobs.

The idea that those who voted for Youngkin are uneducated rubes fails on two fronts. First, as noted by my good friend and Virginia resident Carolyn, the majority of residents of voting age in Virginia have college degrees. That’s understandable, given that the state has some of the finest universities in the country, including the College of William & Mary and the University of Virginia.

More importantly, that’s ultimately irrelevant. A college degree, while desirable, does not increase our value as human beings, or our right to be represented in the political process. Obama forgot that when he talked about those who cling to their guns and religion. So did Hillary with her basket of deplorables.

My grandparents had to leave school before 5th grade, to work. Mike and Mamie had callouses on their hands before they were teenagers. My mother had a high school diploma. My father managed a college and then a law degree working three jobs during the day and going to school at night.

They collectively had more character and decency than the people ridiculing them.

I am so tired of the arrogance of at least some liberals. They assume a posture and attitude that exudes condescension, all the while pretending that they speak for the dispossessed. They might have degrees, but they have no humility.

And they are guaranteeing the election of many more candidates who understand that the value of a human being is not measured by the number of letters after her name.

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