The band played the theme from “Rocky” and 1,990 delegates chanted cheers of encouragement Thursday night as Bob Dole declared “I’m ready to go!” Accepting the Republican presidential nomination, he confronted three issues often used against him: age, disposition and a proclivity to compromise.
Dole, the oldest major-party candidate ever nominated for the presidency, made a grand entrance to the Republican National Convention, moving through a sea of delegates, shaking outstretched hands along the way.
Delighted delegates waved signs proclaiming “Bob Rocks the House.” His vanquished primary rivals sat with his wife, Elizabeth, in a VIP booth at the rear of the hall.
“This is a big night for me. I’m ready, I’m ready to go,” he said.
He entered immediately after delegates watched a seven-minute video - shunned by the major commercial networks - highlighting Dole’s life, particularly his early days in Kansas.
Dole offered himself as a “bridge” between generations, both in the video and in his speech.
“I was born in 1923, facts are better than dreams and good presidents and good candidates don’t run from the truth,” the 73-year-old candidate proclaimed. “Age has its advantages.”
He also sought to cast in the best possible light a testy side of his personality, which sometimes comes across as mean-spirited. “If I am too combative, it is for love of country. It is to uphold a standard that I was born and bred to defend,” he declared.
Yet he made several cutting references to President Clinton.
“It is demeaning to the nation that within the Clinton administration a corps of the elite who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered - and never learned - should have the power to fund with your earnings their dubious and self-serving schemes.”
Of criticism that his years as Senate majority leader have made him too quick to compromise, Dole declared: “In politics, honorable compromise is no sin. It is what protects us from absolutism and intolerance.”
“But one must never compromise in regard to God, family, honor, duty, country.”
“Tonight, I stand before you tested by adversity, made sensitive by hardship, a fighter by principle and the most optimistic man in America.”
If age was a problem, you couldn’t tell it from delegates watching Dole’s speech.
Opal Vankommer, a 79-year-old Oregon delegate, said Dole’s age was an asset, not a problem. “It’s high time we used some of the wisdom of our older citizens,” she said. “He’s hale and hearty and capable.”
Shelly Ritthaler, 40, of Upton, Wyo., said: “I really regret and I don’t know what we’re coming to when we don’t equate wisdom with age and see experience as a good thing.”
Dole talked of his upbringing in the small Kansas prairie town of Russell and spoke fondly of his working class parents, father Doran and mother Bina, both deceased. His lip quivered at one point when he talked of his father’s sacrifice.
“There is no height to which I have risen that is high enough to allow me to forget them, to allow me to forget where I came from, where I stand, and how I stand, with my feet on the ground, just a man, at the mercy of God,” he said.
Dole, who overcame grave World War II wounds that left his right arm withered and paralyzed, said, “the triumph of this nation lies not in its material wealth but in courage, sacrifice and honor. “We tend to forget this when our leaders forget it and to remember it when they remember it.”
“All things flow from doing what is right,” Dole said.
He also sought to portray the Republican party as “broad and inclusive,” suggesting the intolerant make use of the exit signs in the hall.
And he turned his theme of “trust” and the values attained in growing up in small-town America into an attack on President Clinton’s Democrats.
“We are not the party that, as drug use has soared among the young, hears no evil, sees no evil and just cannot say, ‘just say no.’ We are the party that trusts in the people. I trust in the people. That is the heart of all I have said to you tonight.”
One of his biggest applause lines was an indirect swipe at first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, author of a bestselling book about raising children, “It Takes a Village.”
“I am here to tell you it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: HE SAID IT Highlights from Bob Dole’s speech: “Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquillity, faith and confidence in action. To those who say it was never so, that America has not been better, I say you’re wrong and I know because I was there. I remember.” “Do you imagine for one minute that as I sign the bills that will set the economy free I will not be faithful to Americans in need? You can be certain that I will, for to do otherwise would be to betray those whom I love and honor most - and I will betray nothing.” “The high office of the presidency requires not a continuous four-year campaign for re-election, but rather, broad oversight and attention to three essential areas - the material, the moral and the nation’s survival.”