WASHINGTON - As Bob Dole celebrates his 90th birthday on July 22, the former senator and presidential candidate is the first to admit he moves a little slower these days. But after rumors circulated that he had passed away last fall, he's delighted to be celebrating this momentous occasion.
He sat down with 41 Action News Anchor Mark Clegg in his office at the Washington law firm of Alston and Bird. He's a man still very much engaged with his passions – his party and his patriotism.
"I've had a great life. Kansas – the people, have been good to me," Dole said. "And I want to say thank you to them for voting for me."
Dole grew up in Russell, Kan. How did that prepare him for a life of service?
"Every part of the country has values. I think ours cannot be that much different," Dole said. "But it's generally honesty and integrity, and above all else, kind of a streak of independence."
July 22 marks another major milestone in Dole's life. Ten years ago, Republicans and Democrats honored him with their presence at the dedication of the Robert J. Dole Institute for Politics at the University of Kansas.
"It's a pretty good snapshot of my life," he said. "I mean, you walk in the door, and there's the picture of where I was born."
The Dole Institute uses the components of his life, the "Greatest Generation" and his political career. The mission is to promote service, civil discourse and bipartisanship to the next generation.
"The important thing is that it's been under the direction of Bill Lacy, who reaches out to young people, regardless of age," Dole explained. "They have what we call Dole Scholars. Every year they bring in a couple hundred young people, and they have various speakers. We've had almost every political candidate for president speak at the institute. I think it's a great asset to the university, and I think they do, too."
Dole said he doesn't always like what he sees in Washington these days. And he wants young people to know that compromise and bipartisanship should not be seen as dirty words.
"I hate to criticize a place I served for 30 years, but there have been changes. And the changes are primarily lack of collegiality," he said. "It's gotten so personal, so confrontational – not that it wasn't, to some extent, the same when I was there."
Dole said his own party shares some of the blame.
"We've moved so far to the right. Pretty much the case in Kansas, where moderates are not welcome," he said. "I'm a conservative – mainstream, traditional Republican conservative. But I doubt if I could be elected today."
Dole is proud of the work accomplished by congress during his time in office, especially when it came to reaching across the aisle. It frustrates him today to hear lawmakers say, "There's no such thing as compromise."
"Well, Ronald Reagan thought there was. He used to tell me, ‘Bob, get me 90 percent or 70 percent, and we'll get the rest next year.' But some of these people – it's all or nothing," he said.
Recently Dole said it may be time for the Republican Party to take a time-out and close the doors for repairs.
"Try to get together and get some ideas, something they can be for," he said, smiling. "It's not hard to be against something. I think they have to be a party of inclusion. Good people who want to be Republicans, and who are Republicans, that have more moderate, conservative views, who really aren't welcome."
Dole does not feel the party has become more inclusive in the last two elections -- a need Rand Paul and other Republicans have expressed.
Watching the success Democrats achieved in the past two presidential elections, he feels the GOP needs to do more to court minorities, including Hispanic and Latino voters.
"No. They're going to be the majority in this country before long," Dole said. "And if we don't start giving Latinos reasons to vote for Republicans, we could be in the minority on a permanent basis."
As the Dole Institute chronicles the politician's life and career, they use the "Greatest Generation" to encourage the next generation into public service. Dole believes we need more young people in both parties.
Years from now, when people walk into the Dole Institute on the campus of the University of Kansas, Dole wants to be remembered for his service.
"I'd just like people to remember me as somebody who kept the faith, had integrity and honesty – but above all, knowing who I was and where I was from," Dole said.