In many ways, Bob Dole could be considered the mirror image of John Kerry. The “Mirror Universe” John Kerry, as it were. Both were Senators with distinguished war records and medals — Dole two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, Kerry three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star — who ran for the Presidency.
But sometimes the differences couldn’t be more striking. Dole only won two purple hearts, but at one point was expected to die from his wounds and is still scarred and crippled to this day. He rarely talks about his wartime experiences. When he ran for President in 1996, he realized he couldn’t campaign full-time and properly represent his constituents in the Senate, so he resigned. And on those rare occasions he lets it show, he shows a wicked and often self-deprecating sense of humor. (My favorite example: after losing the race for Vice-President in 1976, he told people that on election night “I slept like a baby. Every two hours I woke up and cried.”)
But Dole used to have a reputation for meanness and anger, for being a “hatchet man.” In 1988, he slammed then-Vice President Bush, telling a TV anchor to “tell him to stop lying about my record.” He’s seemed to mellow a bit since then, doing commercials for Viagra and Pepsi, writing a book about Presidential humor, and in general relaxing and enjoying his retirement.
But the Old Bob Dole came out this week, and he was looking to take a hunk out of John Kerry. After Moveon.org released a particularly odious commercial showing an American soldier getting trapped in quicksand, Dole called on John Kerry to demand the group pull the ad.
This very simple move has layers behind it that escape the first glance. Dole very carefully echoed Kerry’s own statements to President Bush about the Swift Boat Vets’ ads. By turning it back on Kerry, Dole has stuck him in a very untenable position. Kerry has essentially three choices, all equally unpalatable:
1) He can comply with Dole’s demand, proving that his campaign has a very real (and very illegal) collaborative relationship with Moveon.org.
B) He can deny any responsibility for the ad, thereby tacitly exonerating President Bush from the Swifties’ efforts.
III) He can ignore Dole’s demand, and hope it just goes away.
Quite frankly, his best bet is the third choice. Very few people (and an even smaller percentage of the mainstream media) will see the significance of Dole’s move, and the chances of this just blowing over are pretty good. But don’t count Bob Dole out. Once Bob Dole gets his teeth into someone’s hide, it takes a hell of a lot to get him to let go. And if there’s one thing Bob Dole doesn’t ever forgive, it’s those who trash his fellow veterans — just like John Kerry did when he came back from Vietnam.
I missed out on most of the Rathergate mess, being too busy with work. But this story has the potential to be almost as amusing.