Bob Dole, praised as a quiet hero of plain-spoken Midwestern virtue, was nominated for president Wednesday by the Republican National Convention and Jack Kemp, the irrepressible former quarterback, was anointed as his running mate.
“Tonight we ask Bob Dole to answer his country’s call again and stand post for America - the first post of the land - not for his sake, but for ours,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, an ex-prisoner of war in Vietnam, who formally nominated the 73-year-old former senator.
Dole, the battle-scarred Word War II veteran and former Senate majority leader, now faces the most daunting challenge of his political life: delivering an acceptance speech tonight that makes the case that he, not Bill Clinton, ought to be leader of the free world.
Kemp, who also speaks tonight, faces his own test: rebutting critics who are arguing that he has relinquished principle by subjugating his longtime advocacy of civil rights and immigration to Dole’s more conservative views.
“Never has so much moral authority been thrown away so quickly,” said White House senior adviser George Stephanoplous. “The issue of character is becoming central to the campaign.”
But in the convention hall here, and more importantly, on prime-time television, Wednesday night was a celebration of Republican values and ideals, culminating in the nomination of Dole.
Calling Dole “the quite hero; the modest man who does his duty without complaint or expectation of praise,” McCain said, “We nominate Bob Dole for president because he is a man of honor, a man of firm purpose and deep commitment to his country’s cause. We nominate Bob Dole for president because this nation deserves better than the aimless direction we have endured for four years.”
With a poignant story designed to contrast Clinton’s avoidance of the Vietnam War with Dole’s nearly fatal wounding in World War II, McCain told how he had only learned last winter that during his captivity in Vietnam, Dole had worn a POW bracelet bearing McCain’s name.
“I never knew that Bob Dole had done me that great honor until very recently,” McCain said. “Bob never told me he wore my bracelet. He never sought my thanks. He never imposed on me an obligation to him for the support he gave me at a time when I needed it most.”
The tale was part of the effort to give a human form to the man most Americans know only as a legislative technician. Key to that cause Monday was Elizabeth Dole’s Oprahesque, off-the-cuff discussion of her husband, whom she called the “strongest, most compassionate and tender man I’ve ever known.”
Helping, too, was Dole’s only daughter, Robin, who described how her father had gotten her tickets to see the Beatles, driven her on early dates and cracked down when she broke the rules.
“I wish every child could grow up as I did, with a father she knew would love her without condition, keep her safe from harm, glory in her independence and drive deep into her soul an unshakable understanding of right and wrong,” she said.
Dole, encouraged by polls showing that he is getting a convention “bounce” closing the race to within 10 percentage points, watched his nomination from a nearby hotel with Kemp at his side. “We’re on the map,” Dole said.
Dole’s fundamental task - as with any challenger - is to persuade voters that it’s time for a change and he’s the man to deliver it. Having spent 35 years in Congress, Dole is seen as the personification of the status quo. When pollsters ask voters which candidate would “bring needed change to government,” they name Clinton.
As CNN analyst Bill Schneider put it: “Next to Dole, everybody else is an outsider - including the president of the United States.”
Everyone here has advice for Dole. According to Arianna Huffington, wife of millionaire former California Congressman Michael Huffington, “The best thing Bob Dole could do is to sound like Jack Kemp and to drive home his message of including everybody, including those who have been left behind.”
Dole could do worse, if the emotional, roaring reaction to Kemp before about 1,200 California delegates and guests Wednesday morning is any measure.
After being introduced by Wilson as the Republicans’ Braveheart to the Democrats’ Forrest Gump, the vice-presidential nominee casually handed his suit jacket to the governor to hold and strolled the stage like Phil Donahue on steroids.
Kemp won huge cheers when he said: “Those who say Dole and Kemp cannot balance the budget and cut taxes and reform this tax code and bring this country high levels of income without inflation and a rising standard of living from South Central L.A. to Silicon Valley don’t know Dole and they don’t know Jack Kemp.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Speeches on-line Texts of key convention speeches and the GOP platform statement are available on Virtually Northwest,The Spokesman-Review’s on-line service, http://www.VirtuallyNW.com.