Bob Dole’s 90th Conjures Visions of Senate Long Gone

Seventeen years and 774 cloture petitions after he left the Senate, Bob Dole celebrated his 90th birthday Monday with the sort of plain-spoken tough love that marked his run as one of the most accomplished congressional leaders of all time.

At an invitation-only Capitol birthday party Tuesday afternoon, his fans will raise a chocolate milkshake toast and wistfully remember what was and what may never be again.

The week won’t have the same emotional pull as Dole’s last announced visit to the Capitol, in December, when he pulled himself out his wheelchair before saluting the coffin of his World War II hospital roommate and three-decade Democratic senatorial buddy Daniel K. Inouye.

It won’t have the same import as Dole’s last attempt to leverage his elder-statesman status as a lobbyist, that same month, when his personal appeals on the floor could not stop the Senate from spurning an international treaty to protect the rights of disabled people.

Nor does it provide the political punch of his last Sunday show appearance, in May, when he declared that his own Republican Party ought to declare itself “closed for repairs” until it settled on a less obstructionist vision.

But his birthday wishes — expressed with his trademark blast-of-Kansas-prairie-wind brevity — may be more important than any of those moments. They were the bluntest articulation possible of the Senate’s profound challenges.

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