By Greg Markley

Last weekend, in a move not on the president’s public schedule, President Biden visited former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole. It was just days after the former Kansas senator received a diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, served in the Senate more than 27 years. Dole said Biden could be a successful president because “he knows how the government works and the Congress works and this will be a benefit to Joe.”

Dole is known as perhaps the most famous illeist. That is, “a person who refers to himself in the third person.” After losing a key primary to Pat Buchanan in the 1996 presidential election campaign, Dole announced, “You’re going to see the real Bob Dole out there from now on.”

 “The real Bob Dole regularly refers to himself in the third person, a habit which made him the target of ridicule in a series of skits on Saturday Night Live,” according to MentalFloss, an online magazine for Millennials. After being laughed at for odd remarks such as ‘If you had to leave your children with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, you’d probably leave them with Bob Dole,’ Dole hired a speech coach to cut down on using illeist ways.

I met Dole at two important times for my career. First, in 1976 I was beginning my second year on the staff of my college newspaper. I met Dole at a fundraiser in the fall, after he was selected as vice presidential nominee with President Ford. I did ask him two quick questions but I ran out of ink.

I saw Dole himself with a pen in his right hand, and I knew he uses that to compensate for mobility lost by being wounded in World War II. In short order, I got another pen but I didn’t get in further questions. (I believe the Secret Service were getting nervous about this 20-year-old wannabe journalist.)

In 1996, I met Senator Dole again at another pivotal time. He was running for president this time, with Jack Kemp seeking to be veep. I had just retired from the Army and started my second career as a civilian newsman. When Dole was told President Clinton was doing well in polls in deep red Alabama, he came to Montgomery to protect the nine electoral votes.

It was so sudden that Dole was coming that his press operation was haphazard and amateurish. As for basic information at the Alabama State Capital, we got a few pages of location/times and a short biography of Dole. Dole won Alabama’s 9 Electoral Votes and the popular vote by 7%. Rounded, it was Dole, 50%; Clinton, 43%; 6% for Ross Perot; and scattered votes for write-ins.

Another manner of speech that Dole invariably uses is people’s title, or honorifics, even when he is not particularly enamored of someone, such as President Clinton. A war hero such as Dole almost always refers to people by their titles. That is because Dole, unlike most people, recognizes that he is saluting the role, not necessary the person holding the title.

This country has devolved into such partisanship and loss of politeness. That is why presidents, governors, county commissioners, etc., are just referred to as Joe, Kay or whatever. The old journalism of first reference, full name described, is forgotten. That is why, as I heard once or twice, NPR started a story about how “Trump wants to pardon Joe Arpaio” or “de blasio is not known for his diligence.”

Again, after the person is properly identified, last names are accepted or even de rigueur. Talk radio hosts have used the term “Barack Hussein Obama” to push the idea that a man who was named Hussein at birth somehow is unworthy of being president as an adult. That’s silly and racist. Bob Dole and his ilk would not spout such nonsense.

It was great for President Biden to find the time to see his friend, soon after the cancer news. The visit was based on decades of friendship for Senate colleagues Biden and Dole. And Dole must be pleased to have Biden bring greetings as commander-in-chief. In 1978, as death was getting close, former vice president Hubert Humphrey spent his days phoning old friends.        

Humphrey even invited his 1968 presidential opponent, Richard Nixon, to his funeral; Nixon accepted. Sometimes Nixon himself spoke in the third person: “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore,” he told the media after a defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial contest.

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for nine years.