Those who were spending their off-hours fitting Bob Dole for a sarcophagus are now going to have to find some other pastime; by tossing away the remainder of his Senate career and going after the Presidency full time, he's demonstrated he has a pulse and a heart.

It's easy to be cynical about Dole's resignation from the Senate, and even more so about the prospect of the consummate Washington insider trying to paint himself as the outsider, but this was no cynical ploy by Dole's handlers or the Republican National Committee; this was a daring and gutsy move by a man who believes it's going to take some daring and gutsy moves to dislodge Bill Clinton and his dwindling band of putative liberals. And while there has been the expected amount of carping from Democrats here and there, you'll notice quickly that few of the carpers have ever actually worked with Bob Dole. Did he really mean it? I'm betting he did.

How this will play in November is still too early to tell. As a general rule, I distrust campaigns based on so-called "character" issues, since they have little to do with the ultimate performance of the officeholder. (Consider: If Bill Clinton were celibate, would he have conducted his domestic and/or foreign policy any differently? If Richard Nixon had had fewer weasels on staff, would he have gotten us out of the Vietnam quagmire earlier?) Of course, they're easy to sell, innuendo being a primary ingredient of the sound bite, and the Dole organization is going to find the concept difficult to resist. But resist they must, if they expect to prevail in November. While much of Clinton's ostensible lead is illusory, the President has a knack for coming at an issue from all sides, and can be expected to put that skill to work during the campaign. If Dole is wise, he'll try to pin Clinton down. Senator Dole has not always been successful in so doing; Mister Dole just might. Don't assume this race is over just yet.

The Vent

18 May 1996

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 Copyright © 1996 by Charles G. Hill