Old enough to be Dole's dad - and still standing

DURING a congressional debate last year a Democratic senator declared that if Cicero were alive he would have opposed a Republican proposal for balancing the budget. Whereupon Strom Thurmond, identified by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest senator in American history, leapt to his feet and cried: "I knew Cicero! Cicero was a friend of mine. And he was FOR the balanced budget amendment!"

The Republican from South Carolina has been a US senator for the last 40 of his 93 years. Last week, declaring he had "unfinished business", he announced that he was running for re-election on 5 November.

This is good news for Bob Dole, who will be taking on Bill Clinton for the presidency on the same day. Described by his detractors as too old for the White House, Mr Dole, at 72, is young enough to be Mr Thurmond's son. In a recent speech the senator from Kansas quipped that he was planning to appoint Mr Thurmond his vice-presidential candidate in order to give his ticket some "age balance".

On the other hand, among the cruel younger generation, Mr Dole suffers from the perception that he and his South Carolina colleague are of the same vintage. David Letterman, the late-night TV talk-show host, listed last month "the top 10 ways" Mr Dole celebrated his victory in the primaries. Included on the list was, "he went cruising for chicks with Strom Thurmond".

The joke more appropriately fitted Mr Thurmond than Mr Dole, who is too consumed with realising his political dreams to have time for any other pursuits. Two years ago the nonagenarian caused a minor scandal in prissy Washington, making it on to the front page of a congressional weekly called The Hill, after he squeezed the arm of a 26-year-old female reporter and whispered, "You sure are a cute girl".

Mr Thurmond, who sports hair implants dyed orange, is such a favourite among his constituents that few will be betting against the old rogue in the election. Those who doubt he will achieve his ambition of staying in the Senate until he is 100 - which he will if he is elected and lives - fail to take into account that he is nothing if not manly.

An inveterate exerciser who lifts weights every day, Mr Thurmond married a 22-year-old beauty queen when he was in his fifties and sired the last of his four children at the age of 67. A Senate colleague from Texas remarked at the time: "When he dies they'll have to beat his pecker down with a baseball bat to close the coffin lid."

His oldest living senator status places him constitutionally fourth in line for the US presidency. In the event of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Newt Gingrich all dying in a plane crash, Mr Thurmond would be called upon to take over the world's most powerful job.

However remote, the notion is nonetheless alarming. First there is his record. During his first 30 years in politics - he entered the South Carolina senate in 1933 - he espoused unapologetically racist positions. While running for president on a segregationist ticket against Harry Truman in 1948, he declared: "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the army cannot force the Negroes into our homes, our schools, our churches and our places of recreation."

In 1964 he hit upon a novel method to prevent a fellow senator from going into the chamber to vote for a civil rights bill. "I just threw him on the floor and put a scissors on him until he agreed not to go in. I just sat on him," Mr Thurmond recalled two years ago in the New York Times. He duly fell into line with contemporary mores, however, turning out in the early 1970s to be the first Southern senator to recruit black people to his staff.

Today all his staff, as well as most of his colleagues in both parties, are fiercely loyal to him - in public, at any rate. There are those who privately mutter about his qualifications to fill the sensitive post of chairman of the Senate's Armed Services Committee. It is perhaps partly on account of the neglect into which the committee has fallen that last year the Congress presented President Clinton with a defence budget that exceeded the Pentagon request by $7bn (pounds 4.6bn).

At best, the in-house mutterers say, he gets lost in the details of defence policy; at worst, especially when he loses his temper, he momentarily forgets where he is. Utterly dependent on his staff, he has one aide whose job it is, they say, to put him to bed and get him up in the morning. However, for sentimental reasons, and because Americans love a record- breaker, no one in the party hierarchy is opposing his bid for re-election. Which possibly reflects on the paralysing circularity of the legislative games they play on Capitol Hill.

Mr Thurmond provides amusing evidence of a trait common to all humanity, but particularly characteristic of Americans: the refusal to accept life's tragic destiny. As Mr Thurmond's old friend Cicero once put it, "No one is so old as to think he could not live another year."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Digital Marketing Manger,Mill Hill,London

To £55kpa (12 Month Contract): Charter Selection: Major household name charity...

Project Co-ordinator/Administrator - Central London

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Head of Digital Marketing, Hampstead,London

To £55kpa (12 Month Contract): Charter Selection: Major household name charity...

Business Developer - Scotland

£40000 Per Annum Plus Package + Bonus: The Green Recruitment Company: The Gree...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil