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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable