On Windy Hill: Spending an evening with Bob Dole at the Osage County Senior Center

Last week, retired Sen. Bob Dole turned 91 years old. The week before, he stopped in Osage City during one of his recent tours of Kansas. The Osage County Senior Center was the fifth stop on the final day of this two-day tour. He looked tired, as I’m sure a much younger person would after such a schedule.

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Wayne White and Bob Dole talk.

Touring his home state at 90 years old, it seems his age might have been the motivation for the tours.

It was 1996 when he last represented Kansas as a U.S. senator. I expected that with the upcoming primary election, his tour would include campaigning for Republican candidates, but he didn’t tout any candidates, so this wasn’t a campaign stop. He didn’t make any serious requests for money, so it wasn’t a fundraising tour.

Although my political views didn’t necessarily align with Bob Dole’s when he was in office, I wanted to hear him speak because he is part of Kansas’ history, and defintely impacted the political course of Kansas and the United States during all those years he served. Introduced by Willie Prescott as a Kansas icon, I agree and am sure Bob Dole will be remembered in the history books of future generations.

I was hoping to hear the perspective of an elder statesman on the current state of U.S. politics, and with his humor-filled commentary, he didn’t disappoint us. He seemed to speak from his heart and not like a politician – he didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear, he told us what he wanted us to hear.

I think maybe he just wanted to see the people of Kansas again.

After commenting on the nice senior center, he told the 90 or so people there, “I’m happy to be here. I don’t have an agenda, so we can probably adjourn in about two minutes. I just came by to say thank you. Thank you for voting for me over all those years. I ran five times for the Senate, and even if you voted against me, that’s OK, we won anyway. Anyway, it’s great to be here. I’ve been here many times before and always nice people and good people.”

He first told about his dive into politics:

“I sort of started off in politics by accident. I was a law student at Washburn University and we had a law librarian, who was a very nice lady named Beth Bowers, who was a Democrat. She thought more young people ought to get involved in public service, not just politics, doing something where you could make a difference for one person, or 100 or 1,000. She talked four us into running for the state legislature, and two of us were elected, one Republican, I was the Republican, and one Democrat, and I served one term there …”

He sprinkled the conversation with thank yous to the people he served:

“I just want to thank you for you know giving me this opportunity to provide public service and at the same time try to represent the people in my state the best I could.”

He spoke about how the trek to Washington, D.C. was not necessarily done in a politically correct way, as he campaigned against Phil Doyle for U.S. representative.

“So we had to figure out some way to make a distinction between me and this Phil Doyle, so we came up with the idea of serving Dole pineapple juice. We served it all over the district, and it was served by what were known then as Dolls for Dole. We had all these lovely ladies serving pineapple juice. If I did that today I’d be arrested for harassment or something. We didn’t know then there was anything wrong with it, we were having a good time and just trying to get elected.”

He spoke about his years of public service, things he learned, and achievements and disappointments in office:

“One thing I learned early on is it’s the little things that count, big things are of course very important, don’t misunderstand me, but it’s whether you’re taking care of somebody’s Social Security or veterans benefit or their welfare check or something they’ve had trouble with government … getting somebody home for somebody’s last rites, or getting some veteran home for some reason for him to be home, and all those things are sort of small things, but they add up, people begin to get confident that you can get things done.”

His big disappointment was not getting a balanced budget amendment passed, he said, noting that if it had such a law been passed, it “would have required the government to balance the budget just like everybody in the audience tries to balance yours or balances yours.”

He said he thought it would pass, but “one Republican defected overnight, so the vote was 50-50 and we lost. And I’ve thought many times what a difference it would have made had we required a balanced budget way back in the early ‘80s. We wouldn’t have a lot of this foolish spending, I don’t mean the regular spending, Social Security, farm legislation and things that you appropriate money for, I’m talking about pork and similar things that people load the bill up with, the bridge to nowhere and all these things you read about …”

Not taking credit as his achievement alone, he said Congress rescuing Social Security was a highlight of his political career.

“Social Security was about to go bankrupt in a sense that Social Security trust fund wouldn’t have enough money to pay your entire check unless we fixed it, and there was timeline, there was deadline. So they appointed a commission – sometimes a commission is just a way to delay things.”

But through work of the commission over Christmas holiday of ‘82, a compromise was reached and “it passed the Congress, so Social Security has been solvent since 1983. It’s going to have to be fixed again one of these days, but it won’t affect any seniors …”

Answering a question about military funding, he also poked fun at U.S. foreign policy and the media.

“I mean you know we have liberty and freedom in this country and everybody wants to come here – look at the Mexican border, you can see that almost every night on the news. Well you can see it on Fox News. But, we’re greatest nation on the face of the earth, we’re stronger than Russia militarily and economically, I think we’re stronger than China. China’s got more men in uniform because they’ve got so many people over there, they’ve got to put them in something, so they put them in uniform.”

He noted that government spending should be scrutinized: “We’ve got to watch our monetary policy; we’ve got to watch our military. There is probably some waste in the military that ought to be eliminated. Some of the weapons that Congress approves, the generals, chiefs of staff, and the people who really understand the big picture, they don’t want these weapons, but they’re forced to go ahead because Congress voted the money for them. So I always had the theory if a military bill was before us, I’d rather vote for a little more than a little less because I don’t know what’s going to happen next year or five years from now.”

Dole also indicated he didn’t agree with the United States’ intervention during the Iraq War. “We don’t need to send any more young men, as we did in Iraq where we lost 7,000 young men and women, and now the country is in effect a terrorist state, and it’s filled with corruption. We spent billions and they took millions. Who knows where they hid it, probably in a Swiss bank somewhere.”

When asked about his wife, Elizabeth Dole, he said she had been working with an organization that helps caregivers of wounded war veterans. He also noted his pride in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Well that’s another bill that I was very proud of, and that was helping to get the American Disabilities Act passed. For people in wheelchairs and people with white canes and veterans and other children and adults with disabilities in wheelchairs, you know we’ve put elevators, ramps, cutouts in curbs, just small things can make a real difference.”

Keeping the conversation bi-partisan, he took potshots at both Republicans and Democrats. Talking about Ronald Reagan’s great leadership, he said Republicans needed someone like him to run for president in 2016, but kidded that Hillary Clinton probably couldn’t afford to be president, referring to her recent public comments.

“I don’t know who the candidates are going to be in 2016.  Hillary can hardly afford it, said they were broke while in the White House, had to pay two mortgages. I felt for them – not very long.”

But he also shared disappointment in the Kansas Congressional delegation, while talking about a treaty he’s been working on that would disallow discrimination against disabled persons in all countries that ratified the treaty.

“Now we’re working on a treaty. I’m cooperating with the White House, it’s not a partisan thing, but something I’m interested in. You need 67 votes for a treaty, and what this treaty does is say if [a disabled person] goes overseas you can’t discriminate against him. One hundred and thirty-nine countries have ratified the treaty, and we’re the greatest example of taking care of disability issues and we haven’t ratified it. Last time we brought it up we lost by five votes. This time we’re about two votes short and unfortunately the trouble is on the Republican side. And there’s no politics, it’s not liberal or conservative, it’s just saying that people who have a disability, you know we’re going to provide that you won’t be discriminated against. … And I could use a couple of votes from Kansas, come to think of it.”

It seemed to me he might have been offering constructive criticism to Sen. Pat Roberts, now on the campaign trail, while answering a question about firing military personnel while they are serving a tour of duty.

“Somebody made a big goof and that happens now and then in Washington if you haven’t noticed,” Dole said.

A loud man in the audience quipped, “Somebody made a big goof and sent them to Washington.”

“Probably right,” Dole said. “Reminds me that some people in Washington, particularly an elected office, think that once they’re elected, you know, think that’s their right, you know, that’s my state, I don’t have to go home. I can just stay back here and go to the embassy parties every week or whatever you want to do. And that’s how they lose their seat. Once you forget where you’re from, and start thinking you’re in some big hotshot place with a lot of rich lobbyists around, well the people forget you, you forget them and they got long memories. They don’t expect to see you every time you come to your home state, but they like to know you’re at least interested in the state and interested in the people. That’s what you’re supposed to be: representative government and representative means we represent you, we’re your face in the Congress.”

Roberts’ opponent in the Senate race, Milton Wolf, has made Roberts’ place of residence an issue in the campaign, while Roberts claims a rented room in Dodge City is his Kansas home.

Dole finished his talk by offering to have his photo taken with anybody who wanted – “it’s only $100 a piece … if you want two, you can get two for $150, but singles are $100, and enlargements, we can’t even estimate the cost.”

He then graciously met and spoke with everyone who waited in line.

I was happy to meet Sen. Dole and shake his hand, and happy that after all his years of public service, he can now finally speak frankly and feel free to express his feelings. I left sad, though, thinking about the upcoming election and wishing I could vote for politicians who speak truthfully and represent their constituents, instead of those who peddle their party’s rhetoric bought and paid for by those who padded their pockets.

Photos of the evening are available here.

A transcript of Sen. Dole’s speech is available here.


On Windy Hill, Wayne White sometimes writes about things he thinks about. He not only lives on a windy hill, he’s been known to be a windy writer.


One Response to On Windy Hill: Spending an evening with Bob Dole at the Osage County Senior Center

  1. unome says:

    Wow! Great article…,,,,Republican or Democrat or Independent-you got to like a 91 year politician who knows what's going on! And isn't afraid to say what he thinks!

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