To many of those chowing down on pancakes Friday in Russell, Kan., Sen. Bob Dole looked like a Washington veteran hungry for the White House.
Others at the VFW hall were reminded of another kind of veteran, one returning home from World War II physically wrecked, right shoulder shattered, feet shuffling from nerve damage.
It is no accident, of course, that kickoff week of the Kansas Republican’s presidential campaign ended exactly 50 years after the day that Nazi gunfire chopped him down on Hill 913 in Italy.
Instead of being defensive about Dole’s age, the campaign has turned the issue inside out and emphasized his sacrifice and experience as a leader. The strategy also offers a contrast to President Clinton’s avoidance of Vietnam, as well as the service deferments of some of Dole’s Republican rivals.
But it also invites barbs that can get personal.
Cartoonist Garry Trudeau turned his pen on Dole in a March 19 Doonesbury strip.
“Does my war wound stand in vivid contrast to the smooth untouched skin of a Bill Clinton or a Phil Gramm, say? You be the judge,” asked the Dole conjured by Trudeau.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the candidate is penned to say, “please give a warm welcome to…my old war wound.”
Was that out of bounds? Dole thought so.
“I don’t know if being wounded is a political asset,” Dole told ABC’s Sam Donaldson on “Prime Time Live” recently. “I’d be glad to trade Garry Trudeau.”
Veterans predictably were outraged.
“Mr. Trudeau makes his living with his hands,” William M. Detweiler, national commander of the American Legion, wrote in a blistering letter to The Washington Post. “For him to belittle another man’s loss of the use of his hand requires an insensitivity that defies description.”
Those who missed boot camp also include Lamar Alexander, the former education secretary, commentator Pat Buchanan, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose name keeps coming up as a ‘96 possibility.