The fall and fall of Bob Dole

Old soldiers never die, but they can get beaten up really badly

Published September 19, 1996 10:51AM (EDT)

If the presidential election were a boxing match, the referee would have stepped in and stopped the fight.

In a day that will live in campaign infamy, Bob Dole:

  • Managed to attract only 150 people to a lunchtime rally in Southern California.
  • Came up with another tin-eared slogan, "Just Don't Do It," (which, as New York Times columnist
    Maureen Dowd
    pointed out, made "Nancy Reagan sound like Ralph Waldo Emerson") before an audience of snickering high-school students, who aren't old enough to vote anyway.

  • Admitted, through his handlers, that he had not actually seen the two movies, "Pulp Fiction" and "Trainspotting," which he said were examples of Hollywood's "glamorizing" of drugs.
  • Referred to the "Brooklyn Dodgers" (the team moved to Los Angeles in 1957).
  • Fell off a stage before giving a speech.

It is that last image that is so emblematic of a presidential candidate who has gone from unlikely to hopeless to tragic. He may have achieved, in that wincing tumble, something his campaign has so vainly sought -- he became a flesh-and-blood human being. But he also became a very sad one. It made one want to put a gentle hand on his shoulder and say "Enough."

Of course, Bob Dole is largely the architect of his own humiliation. He saw the presidency as some sort of gold watch, to be awarded him after 35 years of meritorious service in the political vineyards. He, much more than Bill Clinton, was willing to do or say whatever it took to appeal to the ultimate focus group ("I'll be Ronald Reagan if that's what you want"). He willingly embraced the shackles put around him by special interests, like the tobacco industry, the Christian Coalition and the NRA.

Still, even for partisans, including myself, who have delighted in taking potshots at this barn door of a target, Mr. Dole's literal and figurative fall from grace no longer occasions glee. Rather, a morbid fascination mixes with pity, as we watch one unkind cut after another being inflicted on a man who did serve his country well.

Quote of the day

Hanging in there

"This should put to rest the age question once and for all. If Bob Dole can take a tumble like that and hop right back up on his feet and deliver a great speech, he is strong
enough to be president and go a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson too."

-- Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield, quoted Thursday by
, after the GOP presidential candidate fell from a stage in Chico, Calif., sustaining a scratch and ruptured blood vessels in his left eye.

By Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

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