Why Bob Dole’s “Bridge to the Past” is a Bridge to Nowhere

Politico.com has run an almost tender puff piece: “Bob Dole goes home.”

When Bob Dole ran for president in 1996 at the age of 73, Democrats derided him as a relic and a man out of place in the electronic age. Late-night comics mocked him, he tumbled off a stage and President Bill Clinton charged in his convention speech that Dole wanted to “build a bridge to the past.”

Nearly two decades later, Dole is having the last laugh — and letting present-day Republicans know they might learn a thing or two from the deal-making glory days of the iconic Kansas war hero.

This story attempts to be so subtle in its propaganda that it buries the lead. Eventually, after making Dole’s Kansas tour about nostalgia and the good will the sheep have for their own member of the wolf pack—the best job for a wolf is as a sheep dog, after all—eventually we learn that this is all an anti-Tea-Party propaganda tour.

But much as Dole is plainly enjoying himself, at each event he also delivers a consistent message: Washington is broken, the parties need to learn to compromise again and, for heaven’s sake, things really did work better back in his day. As the Republican Party gropes its way toward a viable theory of national politics, there’s even a novelty and freshness to Dole’s brand of post-war Republicanism.

At packed events Tuesday, Dole lamented the demise of Democratic deal makers like the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, with whom Dole negotiated a major entitlement reform agreement. He castigated Washington politicians for allowing the debt to spiral so high (“Seventeen trillion? I don’t know what that is,” he said in Holton) and for failing to act to extend the life of Social Security (“It’ll always be there,” he told the seniors, “but we have to find some way to reduce the debt”).

And he took aim at his own party, arguing that Republicans need to sew up their internal divisions and learn to “give a little to get a lot.” He expressed dismay at the failure of Congress to pass immigration reform to and said the next GOP presidential nominee must be “somebody with a program.”

Having veered back and forth in his career between serving as an energetic partisan and an authentic Capitol Hill negotiator, Dole has lurched hard in the direction of compromise just as the core of his party has done the exact opposite.

“We can’t be against everything,” the former senator said in a brief interview. “We’ve got to have a forward-looking program, whether it’s immigration, or foreign policy, or education.”

The article swings back into mostly nostalgia, but anyone can see that this is part of the Empire’s war against the Tea Party rebels. I’d love to know how this jaunt is being funded—or rather, by whom.

Dole’s argument ignores the most basic fact. The reason why politicians who “negotiated” were elected into office and stayed in office was because the golden goose had not started to visibly die yet. The golden goose is the American people and the American economy. Politicians promised goodies on the basis of debt. Dole may think Obama should not have put his foot on the accelerator so hard, but sooner or later Dole’s path would have brought us to where we are now.

We are running out of space. Instead of stealing from our grandchildren we are stealing from only a decade in the future.

And that is why the negotiators have disappeared. For one thing, the voters are sensing how close we are to disaster and are less eager to entrust themselves to such people. But really, what is left to negotiate over? Everything anyone tries just demonstrates that we are nearing the end of the road.

We are in this bad position now because of decisions made in Dole’s golden age of “negotiators” and deal-makers. He led us here. And it is too late to return to an earlier age. There’s no way to turn back the debt clock.

Bob Dole