On today's show, we highlight the complicated legacy of Bob Dole. For Americans of a certain age, basically age 35 and over, Bob Dole was an avatar of the Republican Party. After his losing presidential campaign, he went through a transition from a taciturn, gruff politician known as Dr. Gridlock to a much more genial and vulnerable public image cultivated on late night TV, as a spokesperson for World War II veterans, and on behalf of sufferers of erectile dysfunction as a pitchman for Viagra. In the wake of his death, analysts focused on that later image, and mourned the passing not only of the man, but of a seemingly different and better kind of American politics. But our guest today was one of the few to point out that Bob Dole's record was far more complex, and maybe the nostalgia about the way things used to be in politics isn't quite right. In fact, as much as we praise his military service and personal toughness, it can be argued that Bob Dole was ahead of his time on many of the things that we hate most about today's politics. He may even have invented them.
Erik Loomis is Associate Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island. His most recent book is A History of America in Ten Strikes, published by The New Press in 2018. He also writes for the Editorial Board, and his most recent article is titled The Mean Old Man of the GOP is Dead.