Dole's ploy opens up old wounds

Presidential bid/ playing the veteran card

BOB DOLE, who launched his bid for the US presidency last week, will be basing his campaign on the message that has made Forrest Gump one of Hollywood's all-time greatest box office hits: no matter how great the adversity, the American Dream is within everybody's reach.

The Republican majority leader in the US Senate is striving to do for the physically handicapped what Gump has done for the mentally deficient.

A war wound he suffered in northern Italy in 1945 left Mr Dole crippled for life. A shell explosion shattered his right shoulder and right arm. Back home he underwent seven operations, one to remove a kidney. The doctors' treatment enabled him to resume a functional working life but could do nothing to restore the use of his arm.

For years he could not bear to look at himself in the mirror and to this day he makes a point always in public of perching a pen between his lifeless fingers, pointing upwards like a porcupine spine, so as to avoid the embarrassment of someone reaching out to shake his right hand.

It is a testimony to his courage that after a 35-year political career that has taken him to the top job in the US Congress he should have emerged, aged 71, as the favourite for the Republican presidential nomination. The polls show, besides, that were the election to be held today, he would defeat President Clinton.

All of which makes him fair game for America's political satirists. Or does it? A cartoon strip by Garry Trudeau, the creator of Doonesbury, begs the question whether politicians should be subjected to attacks that stray beyond common decency.

The strip, carried in the Washington Post and other newspapers, depicts Mr Dole in a campaign commercial. "Does my wound stand in vivid contrast to the smooth, untouched skin of Bill Clinton or Phil Gramm?" [the draft- dodging second favourite for the Republican nomination] Dole asks. "You be the judge. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to ... my old war wound." The wound - Doonesbury-style - comes to life and responds: "Thank you, Bob, thank you. I'm proud to be a political asset."

Needless to say, the letters have poured into the newspaper post rooms. "Disgraceful"; "sleazy"; "insulting"; "indescribably tasteless"; "a moral sewer". "Suffice it to say," said Senator John McCain, of Arizona, from the congressional floor, "that I hold him [Trudeau] in utter contempt." Mr Dole himself remarked that he considered the joke to be "in poor taste".

The offending cartoonist entered the debate in a letter last week to the Washington Post. Mr Trudeau's point was that if his work was tasteless, the victim had brought it on himself.

Mr Dole ran unsuccessfully for the vice-presidency alongside Gerald Ford in 1976. He tried and failed to secure the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988. During those three campaigns never once did he draw attention to his heroic debility, leading Mr Trudeau to observe: "I had always admired Senator Dole for the dignity and modesty with which he bore the sacrifice of his military service."

But now, as the 1996 election looms, he is venturing on what he knows will be his last opportunity to win the top prize in American politics. For by the time the election comes around, he will be 73, four years older than Ronald Reagan was when he ran for his first presidency. And he has calculated that his chance lies in throwing modesty to the winds and playing the battle-scarred veteran card.

His hallmark sound bite has become: "Maybe there's still one more mission, one more call to service for the Second World War generation." He announced his candidacy on the 50th anniversary of the day his arm was blown up. He flew to Italy earlier this month to film an interview with ABC television's Prime Time Live on the very site of the battlefield where he was wounded.

The nobility of Mr Dole's war record notwithstanding, Mr Trudeau's argument that he is engaging in cynical politics as usual, appears to be reinforced by examination of two of his recent campaign stunts.

Last month Mr Dole wrote to the National Rifle Association (NRA) promising that he would battle to repeal a law banning the commercial sale of assault rifles. As the New York Times said in an unusually intemperate editorial, his "shameless sycophancy" towards the gun lobby reflected not principle but his "slavery" to the fear that his more hawkish rivals for the Republican nomination would turn his right flank.

It also so happens that the NRA is one of the most bountiful funders of Republican presidential campaigns.

But while making money by whatever means is acceptable if you are a politician or a gun-manufacturer, it is not if you happen to be a film-maker.

Last week on the campaign trail in Iowa, Mr Dole made what an aide described as an "aggressive" appeal to the conservative Christian "family values" lobby by way of a speech attacking the purportedly declining mores of Hollywood. Denouncing the entertainment industry as peddlers of sex and violence, he declared: "We must hold Hollywood accountable for putting profit ahead of common decency." To which Forrest might have replied: (viz `Gumpisms, the Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump') "If you're ahead, shut up and stay there."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map