For a two-time loser, he’s a real winner

How would you like to meet one of our nation’s last surviving heroes of World War II? Or, perhaps, someone who went to KU to play basketball for legendary coach Phog Allen?

Maybe you’d prefer to congratulate a person instrumental in securing the dike and levee that ended decades of flooding in Marion. Or someone who courageously overcame a disability.

Would you instead like to chat with someone who gave summer internships years ago to the likes of David Nelson of Burdick, Glenn Kerbs of Tampa, or John Popp and Todd Heitschmidt of Marion?

How about meeting someone who made the 1991 second-grade class at Bown-Corby School famous by including a photo of them on thousands of Christmas cards sent nationwide?

Or maybe you’d like to chat for a moment with someone who was his party’s nominee for both president and vice president, led his party through some of its darkest hours, and most notably served as one of the greatest majority and minority leaders in the history of the U.S. Senate — one of the last Republicans who understood that bipartisanship and compromise were integral to governing.

Every one of those people will be in Marion next week in the form of a single aging lion of politics when former Sen. Bob Dole, who turns 91 later this month, visits Marion Community Center for a campaign-style meet-and-greet from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Marion will be the day’s final stop, after Council Grove, on a grueling tour that will see him visit five other counties, starting in Cottonwood Falls, the next day.

It’s all part of a yearlong, 105-county tour he’s undertaking not to campaign for anyone or anything but to say morituri, as it were, to a state he loves almost as much as it has loved him.

He’s neither as vigorous nor as quick-witted as he was in the days when he survived his only real electoral challenge, against Dr. Bill Roy in 1974, when he won re-election largely on the basis of a quip at a State Fair debate: “Everywhere I go, I see Dr. Bill bumper stickers. Dr. Bill here, Dr. Bill there. Well I tell you this: We’ve got too many doctor bills!”

The irreverence is still there, though nowadays it is doled out more slowly from a wheelchair instead of a podium.

Even for those who disagreed with his politics, Monday will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience living history and say thanks for a lifetime of service. Miss it and you will have missed out on experiencing Kansas’ most important favorite son since Dwight Eisenhower.

— ERIC MEYER

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