Bob Dole turns 91 today. He’s had a remarkable life.

Bob Dole turns 91 today.


Dole, with wife Elizabeth, delivers his acceptance of the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996.

Dole has been out of politics since his unsuccessful 1996 race against President Bill Clinton and, as a result, many people have forgotten -- or never knew -- the remarkable arc of his life, both in politics and out of it. "Bob Dole is one of the large political figures of our time, in the middle 1990s towering over everyone else in the political landscape, even the president," wrote Michael Barone and Grant Ujifusa in the 1996 version of "The Almanac of American Politics".

Dole's political resume speaks to that bigness. (Remember, in the words of Jedediah Springfield, that "a noble spirit embiggens even the smallest man.") Dole was the Gerald Ford's vice presidential nominee in 1976, ran for the GOP presidential nomination unsuccessfully in 1980 and 1988 and capped his career by winning his party's nod in 1996. He spent more than a decade as the top ranking Republican in the Senate, the longest tenure of any GOP leader in Senate history. (Fun fact: Dole won his leadership position in 1984 by beating out Ted Stevens of Alaska, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Dick Lugar of Indiana.)

"Sure, losing an election hurts, but I’ve experienced worse," Dole wrote in a September 2012 op-ed in the Post, reflecting on his defeat at the hands of Clinton. "And at an age when every day is precious, brooding over what might have been is self-defeating." He ended that piece by noting: "The greatest of life’s blessings cannot be counted in electoral votes."

Dole was understating it in that op-ed when he wrote he had "experienced worse" than losing a presidential race in his life. His service in World War II, the injuries sustained there and the way in which Dole willed himself back from the near-dead, literally, is absolutely remarkable.

As David Maraniss recounted in a 1996 WaPo piece on Dole, the Army sent Dole's parents a letter following his war wounds in 1945 that read:

"Dear Mr. Dole: We regret to inform you that your son, Robert J. Dole, who was admitted to this hospital on 10 October 1945, is seriously ill with Pulmonary infarction. At the present time it would appear that his recovery is somewhat questionable."

Dole's struggles are documented brilliantly -- and movingly -- in Richard Ben Cramer's "What It Takes". Here's Ben Cramer on Dole.


If you have never read the full account of Dole's injuries and his recovery from them, you need to go out and buy "What It Takes" today. (Added bonus: Ben Cramer's reporting on Joe Biden during that 1988 presidential race remains deeply illuminating about the man who currently serves as vice president of the United States.)

Dole has been less and less of a public figure as he's aged. He did make waves last summer when he said that the Republican party should be "closed for repairs" until it could come up with a fresh and positive policy agenda. His Dole Institute at the University of Kansas remains a vibrant part of the political conversation and a must stop for political junkies when in the Sunflower state.

Simply put: Dole's life -- in and out of politics -- won't be replicated any time soon.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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