Bob Dole and the return of the old nasty

· 2004 Election

Back before the ’96 election, Bob Dole gave the GOP response to a Clinton State of the Union. And it was just shattering in its glowering negativity. In fact, his response was such a nasty, nutty, powerfully awful speech, it struck many as the very moment Dole’s campaign was plaster-wrapped and buried at sea.
The last few years, we’ve learned that there are other sides to Bob Dole. He’s a complex man. There’s a funny side. A likable side. Even a huggable side. Some days, he’s like the Teddy Ruxpin of Republican hatchet-men.
Until recently, the old-school, more sinister Dole had been stored away somewhere while the huggable Dole took over center stage. But tonight, Darth Dole returned.
It was an interesting night. On the one hand, there was John Edwards. Now I’m not saying he was Obama-tastic. But he was smart. Positive. Genial. “Hope is on the way” he said. Cool. I’m for that.
On the other hand, all the right-wingers struck me as kind of extra edgy. Ralph Reed practically ground his teeth into a fine powder, talking about what John Edwards didn’t talk about — John Kerry’s record in congress, and oh boy, don’t get me started on that one, cuz I could just go on for —
When I found Bob Dole on a panel with Gen. Clark and David Gergen, I thought, great! That Bob Dole has such a lovably wry sense of humor. This should be fun. And then he reached through the TV and poked me in the eye with one long bony finger. Ow. Damn.
And I wondered, what’s the deal? Why so angry, Bob? Why do you and your Republican buddies all around cable-ville look so extra tense tonight? In other words, why is tonight, the night Edwards made his big network debut, somehow different from all other nights? Different and yet, strangely familiar….
And I developed this theory: Sure, these the folks on the pretty-far-right don’t like liberals. But, and this is just a theory, they can’t stand hunky, Southern, smiling liberals. I mean: Wow. It drives them nuts.
Kerry and Gore, I don’t think Ralph Reed can get too worked up about Kerry and Gore. But hunky Bill Clinton and super-hunk Southern smiley John Edwards drive the Bob Doles and Ralph Reeds of the world insane. “Those Southern liberals,” (I’m just guessing) Ralph rages. “With their liberal liberal ideas.” “Being all hunky” Bob (theoretically) chimes in. “And born in the South too. Come on! It’s ridiculous!” And then together (perhaps): “They’re driving us nuts!”
And it not just any kind of nuts. It’s a very special sort of Bob-Dole-slow-burn, super-angry kind of nuts. A nuts that has a history of freaking the American people out and, you know, making Republicans lose elections.
And I thought: Cool. It’s like the man said. Hope is on the way.