He is frail now, confined to a wheelchair.
But as Bob Dole prepares to turn 90 on Monday, he’s also very, very plugged in.
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These days, just as always since he left the Senate, Bob Dole is in touch with the Kansas congressional delegation, asking questions, probing, offering advice, keeping tabs on all things Sunflower.
He is, in short, still acting like a senator. He can’t let go. The calls still come from his D.C. office:
How’s the harvest? When’s it going to rain? Have you talked to Glen out in Council Grove? What’s the Legislature up to?
“It’s always an honor when he calls me,” said Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins of Topeka.
“He’s up to speed,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, who talks with Dole weekly and goes back longer with him than any other delegation member. Roberts then lowered his voice and turned on the gruff in his finest Dole impression: “Well, Roberts, what’s going on over there?”
These days for Dole, everything is about years. His 90th. The 35 years as Kansas’ go-to man in D.C. The full 17 since he did the one thing he didn’t want to do, which was to resign from the Senate he loved to pursue his long dream of becoming president.
“I will seek the presidency with nothing to fall back on but the judgment of the people of the United States and nowhere to go but the White House or home,” the senator said that morning from the Senate floor.
There’s also this one: 68 years. That’s how long it’s been since his crippling, nearly mortal injuries on an Italian hillside in April 1945, just three weeks before the fighting ended. German machine-gun fire caught him.
This week, Roberts voiced what so many think, but rarely say, and that is just how amazing it is that Bob Dole is still alive. On the day he was shot, Dole turned gray on that battlefield “the way they got before they died,” one comrade recalled.
He lingered near death for weeks and was transformed from a strapping 194-pound jock to a gaunt 122. Instead of running through the streets of his hometown of Russell, he shuffled. He loathed his own image in the mirror.
Bob Dole has achieved many things over the years. Senate Republican leader for longer than anyone, presidential nominee, vice-presidential nominee. He would have become president in 1988 save for a political diaster in New Hampshire.
Here’s another one: He made it to 90, still engaged, still alert. Tuesday evening in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, the nation’s power elite will raise their glasses to the man from Kansas.
Bob Dole is 90 and, hey, how’s the wheat?