The Last Hurrah

Bob Dole

by Richard Ben Cramer
Vintage, 165 pp., $11.00 (paper)

Senator for Sale: An Unauthorized Biography of Senator Bob Dole

by Stanely G. Hilton
St.Martin's Press/A Thomas Dunne Book, 300 pp., $22.95

Bob Dole: The Republicans' Man For All Seasons

by Jake H. Thompson
Donald I. Fine Books, 279 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Bob Dole
Bob Dole; drawing by David Levine

The New Hampshire presidential primary has not been kind to Senator Bob Dole. Twice it has inflicted the sort of wound that would have killed the White House dreams of a less driven man. In 1980 when he first ran for president he finished last in New Hampshire in a field of six, with a total of 608 votes. This was less than a half of 1 percent of the 145,000 votes cast. Even the write-in votes had a bigger tally—1,310 votes. “Pathetic” is too pale a word for Dole’s dismal showing, and too kind as well for a defeat which all observers agree had been inflicted on Dole by Dole himself through political errors so fundamental it is hard to imagine the man has been routinely described as one of the great professional politicians of the age.

Eight years later Dole tried again and came into the New Hampshire primary with a sound win over Vice-President George Bush in the Iowa caucuses. What went wrong is a puzzle. Victory seemed to depress his spirits no less than defeat. Normally the quickest of men on his feet, Dole grew confused about the right answer to a crucial question about taxes in a televised debate two nights before the primary.

Politics in New Hampshire is founded upon one bedrock principle: No taxes. No income tax and no sales tax. This is the issue, sometimes spoken and sometimes not, in every state and national campaign conducted in New Hampshire. No taxes. State spending on schools, social welfare, health, the environment, and other similar matters of legitimate concern to government is extremely low, but the voters of New Hampshire are comfortable with that so long as there is no erosion of the bedrock principle. Two years ago a woman ran for governor of New Hampshire on a pledge to lower property taxes by instituting a much fairer and more efficient income tax which would give the state money for many good things. Her campaign was a heart-wrenching spectacle, like watching a coyote gnaw off its own foot caught in a steel trap. At a recent meet-the-candidates dinner put on by the New Hampshire Republican State Committee in Manchester taxes were the constant refrain. The eight candidates, Dole last, all spoke of taxes, and some, like zillionaire Steve Forbes, spoke of nothing else—lower taxes, a flat tax, to end or not to end the capital gains tax. Several of the candidates got rousing cheers when they promised to abolish the Internal Revenue Service. It’s one of civilized mankind’s oldest dreams. “Why do Americans hate the rich?” a woman asked me. She’s for Steve Forbes and the flat tax.

No taxes. It’s not a difficult rule to memorize. Bob Dole has been on the Senate Finance Committee for decades. His hand is on every piece of tax legislation. His campaign contributors have sought and have received…

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