Dole shares laughs, thanks
By MIKE CORN
WaKEENEY -- Bob Dole's still got it, even though he's no longer on the campaign trail kissing babies.
He had his chance Thursday when Lucy Bain, Ellis, brought her 3-month-old son, Peter, to WaKeeney to see the former senator and Republican presidential candidate.
While Dole didn't kiss Peter, he had all the right words for a doting mother, who wanted to give her son the chance to see the former senator.
Welcomed by a round of rousing applause and a standing ovation, Dole walked into the Western Cooperative Electric meeting room Thursday, albeit with a bit of help from aide Kirkland Hinds.
"Well, good morning," Dole said as he was seated and a microphone moved closer. "Thanks for coming out. I don't want anything. I don't want your money."
But he did want to thank WaKeeney residents -- and ultimately Kansas residents as he winds his way through a series of town hall meetings across the state -- for his years of service in Congress.
"I decided at age 90, I better get out here and thank all of you for voting for me," Dole said.
He gave special thanks to World War II veterans for their service, and welcomed the only one attending, 91-year-old Leonard Purinton up to the front of the meeting room for a photo opportunity.
A line of well-wishers soon formed behind, patiently waiting for their chance to sit next to the former senator for a moment. Many leaned close to offer personal thoughts, while others grabbed his hand or patted him on the leg.
It was easily apparent Dole was among friends, young and old. Only his aides worried about the time, as they tried to get back on the road for a session in Hill City.
"I just didn't want to miss the opportunity to see Sen. Dole," Bain said of making the trip from Ellis. "I thought it might be his (Peter) only opportunity to meet Sen. Dole."
Dole spoke of his career in politics, and said he never forgot what he "learned growing up in Russell."
He did, of course, point out Russell used to play WaKeeney in high school basketball, when he was a player.
"My biggest achievement in the Senate, in 28 years, was to rescue Social Security," Dole said as he looked back on his eight years in the House of Representatives and 28 years in the Senate. "It was about to go broke."
But he said compromise made a solution possible, one that both he and the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Moynihan agreed had to be done.
"I remember that was on Jan. 3, 1983," he said.
The compromise passed a Senate-appointed committee and ultimately the Senate, although not unanimously, he noted.
"Social Security has been good since 1983," he said, "and it will be good another 10 to 12 years. Then it will have to be fixed again."
He's confident there will be changes, such as raising the retirement age, but noted he won't be around to fix the problem next time.
His other big accomplishment was passage of the American Disabilities Act, legislation that literally made it possible for people with disabilities to open doors and be given increased opportunities.
"Obviously, I worked on every farm bill," he said, even pointing out that former President Ronald Reagan chastised Dole for passing a farm bill in 1986 that was expected to cost a lot of money.
Dole thought otherwise, until drought and a lack of crops ballooned the size of the cost.
"The president reminded me I was a big spender," he said.
Dole said his response was not that he was a big spender, but rather that's what happens when there's no crops.
"I also worked with George McGovern," Dole said of the former Democratic senator and presidential candidate. "We are two losers."
That brought laughs from the audience of nearly 50 people.
While Dole said he and McGovern "didn't agree on many things," they did work together to ensure a food safety net for the poor.
"The truth now, it's kind of gotten out of hand," he said. "A lot of people who get food stamps really don't deserve them."
Dole bemoaned the split in both parties -- moderates and ultra-conservatives "who don't contribute much of anything" on the Republican side. Democrats have the mainstream and those on the "far left and want the government to take over everything."
Anyone who wants to see socialized medicine only has to look at either the Veteran's Administration, embroiled in a controversy over meeting the medical needs of veterans, or Obamacare, he said.
"The question now is should they fire the secretary?" Dole said of the situation facing the VA. "I don't think he's responsible, but if the facts show he knew what was going on, he should go."
He was at his peak when he talked about running against former Rep. Keith Sebelius, when he fought for name recognition.
They tried Dole pineapple juice, he said, and they had "Dolls for Dole."
"If I did that today, I'd be in jail, for harassment or something."
Dole also spoke of some Kansas members of Congress, notably giving accolades to Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts.
"I think Jerry's doing fine," he said.
He said the same of Gov. Sam Brownback, who tapped Dole as honorary chairman of his re-election campaign. Roberts did the same.
"I'm not sure he needs an honorary chairman," Dole said of Roberts. "And he does have a residence in Kansas."
That was the subject of a recent New York Times article.
"Not many people here who read the New York Times," he said. "And that's a plus."
Dole also turned the focus to World War II vets, of which Purinton was the only one attending other than Dole.
"I try to get down to the memorial every Saturday," Dole said of visiting the WWII memorial, and greet veterans from all over the country. We're down to a million. We were close to 16.5 million, so we're disappearing."