by Melissa Brunner
I remember the first time I interviewed Sen. Bob Dole. Well, I'm not sure if you can call it an "interview."
It was 1996 in Abilene. I was sent to cover a two-day swing which would culminate with an event in Dole's hometown of Russell to announce his vice presidential running mate. I had all of two months experience reporting at the time so I really don't know why I was chosen, but away I went, wide-eyed and, frankly, a bit in awe of being on the same media platform as big-city and network reporters.
In Abilene, Dole was making an appearance at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. After the official speech, the Senator walked the line, signing autographs and shaking hands. I worked my way through the crowd with the other reporters, eventually finding myself at the fence, where Dole was right in front of me. As someone wove our microphone from the photographer up to me, I shouted a question in Dole's direction, something about the first real polls of the campaign coming out and showing he faced a big uphill climb. An aide standing off his shoulder looked at me, shook his head and said, "Not now." I smiled my best rookie smile and said, "Okay," conveying, hey - I didn't know any better! But then, Dole turned around without missing a beat and answered my question, followed by several hours. Sure, it was a sign of a consummate politician, but I've always been impressed that he did that. Over the years, I've come to learn not everyone does - photo ops are, to some, just that - photos only, no questions please!
Several years later, in 2001, I was working on a special program for the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and contacted Dole's office about perhaps visiting him at his Washington office to discuss his efforts for the World War II memorial. No problem, they said, welcoming us with open arms - I even got to meet his dog, Leader 2. It was during that interview that, for the first time, I heard Dole tell the story of being injured on the battlefield in Italy during WWII. He told how he remembered his fellow soldiers putting the helmet atop the gun next to him, so he thought he was dead. He recalled the jostling as they mustered him down the hill. He talked about his long recovery and how much the people of Kansas supported him throughout that time.
In an age when politicians can be so divisive, Bob Dole is one of those rare individuals who exudes praise from both sides of the aisle. I don't pretend to know him well, but I do know I've been impressed during my opportunities to interact with him. This is in no way a commentary on whether or not I support his positions on various issues. You can agree or disagree with a person's politics, but you can respect how he or she acts as a person.
Happy 90th birthday, Sen. Dole. It's been a privilege to have a front row seat to at least a little of your history.