The Real Legacy of Senator Bob Dole

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Bob Dole George W. Bush

My most vivid memory of Bob Dole will always be a 2000 television interview in which the five-term U.S. senator, standing in front of a Florida polling place, declared without a scintilla of evidence that Democratic canvassing personnel inside were “casting votes not counting votes.”

Whatever regard I had for the man ended there.

It was part of an organized Republican propaganda effort to “work the media refs” and to bolster George W. Bush’s claim to the presidency. Eventually, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the controversy, installing the worst president in modern history into the White House.

But the GOP stole the presidency long before Antonin Scalia cashed in on the ill-gotten gains.

It started when Florida’s Republican secretary of state purged more than 30,000 Black voters from the polls that year on the pretense that their names “sounded like” those of convicted felons. It’s likely that this move alone cost Al Gore, who “lost” the state by fewer than 600 votes, the presidency.

Bob Dole was right there doing his part, sowing the seeds of doubt about Gore and the Democrats, casting aspersions and making scurrilous claims about election tampering.

In the more than 20 years which have followed, Republican-engineered voter suppression has gotten much worse; and since Donald Trump’s failed coup efforts last January, numerous red states have brazenly codified discriminatory laws designed to keep likely Democratic voters from casting their ballots.

When we lament our dying democracy these days, of course we should take into account the lawlessness of the Trump administration and its flagrant efforts to flout fair elections. But the problem started much earlier; and the war hero Bob Dole was right there on the front lines.

But, sure, let the hagiography begin. And if and when the GOP steals another presidential election, it won’t be because of the obscene, extreme efforts of the caricature known as Trump but because of the methodical, fraudulent strategies of so-called moderate Republicans like Dole.

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Tilsen is a retired journalist whose 20-plus-year career included covering local politics and courts in her former home state of Minnesota. She has written for The Associated Press, Reuters, two newspapers and three television stations and is the recipient of four first-place reporting awards. She resides with her husband and mother in Cape Girardeau, MO, where she is a volunteer with the local Humane Society.

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