The Nature of the Beast
Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Features: Election Preview ’96, November 1996
The Nature of the Beast
In defense of the dandelion-pickin’, tree-lovin’ side of that environmental bogeyman, Bob Dole
Little-known fact: Bob Dole was once a demon on roller skates –the steel-wheeled, strap-on, tighten-with-a-metal-key kind. Bob would tear off his shirt after school and scrape noisily up and down the rough blacktops of Russell, Kansas, as if these flat byways were the glittery sidewalks of Venice Beach. Picture it: the sea of wheat about him, bending in the wind like breaking
Ah, the halcyon days, the salad days. Back then, Dole didn’t just skate. He was Mr. Outdoors. In winter, he’d tramp over scruffy wheat stubble in search of rabbit for the frying pan. The Doles, who husbanded away household items like string, or tinfoil, or rubber bands (never know when the price of rubber is going to shoot through the roof), found proper midwestern use for the
So there you have it: Bob Dole is at one with the earth.
It feels good to say that, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? You can take it a step further: Bob Dole wouldn’t make the most god-awful commander-in-chief of our nation’s environmental policy. At least, he wouldn’t be the end of the world.
The proof is everywhere.
Dole, who sometimes wears a white button-down with extra starch while speed-walking on the treadmill, wouldn’t mar the natural beauty of our nation’s capital by going for a jog in those skimpy Laker-Girl-style shorts the current president used to be so fond of. And since
And the trouble would pass.
Of course, Dole does have a few skeletons in his closet when it comes to the environment. Dole voted “against” the environment 81 percent of the time during his 35 years on Capitol Hill, according to the League of Conservation Voters. And last year, he sent shivers up the spines of Democrats and Republicans alike when he attached his name to a skein of bills aimed at maiming
On the other hand, the environmental skeletons aren’t found only on Capitol Hill. While the Doles’ schnauzer, Leader, seems to be treated with love and dignity, back in the sixties Bob’s dog mysteriously died in the backseat of the car during a trip from D.C. to Kansas. The stated cause was heat exhaustion, though no investigation followed. Curiously, People for the Ethical
But Dole’s solid, family-values-packed upbringing in Russell has been seized–and dished out and sprinkled with extra jimmies –along the campaign trail. By now it’s more than clear that it was tough growing up in western Kansas. And it must have been tougher for an aspiring environmentalist. The place is nice country for skating, but it’s never inspired the weepy “nature
Despite this history, the candidate has attracted some unexpected environmental support. At the rustic digs of the Earth First! Journal in Oregon, a staffer declared during a recent phone conversation, “Man, Clinton sucks; he’s a traitor. I just might vote for Dole.” Granted, he admitted later that he and his friends would probably vote for Ralph
Marketing directors for environmental groups also might consider a vote for Dole: He would be good for business. Republican administrations, with their tough talk about how hard clean air and water laws are on poor, oppressed factory owners, inspire people to fill the coffers of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. James Watt, for instance, was wonderful for environmentalism. So
In a bold, playing-against-type move, however, the tall Kansan has actually been trying to sound green lately. As election day approaches, the e-word is being squeezed into Dole’s speeches, nestled cozily between “firearms,” “family,” and “whatever.” Known in the campaign business as “neutralizing,” the idea is to show voters you care about a particular key issue without
Of course, of all the candidate’s charms, it’s the savage suntan that is perhaps Bob Dole’s greatest eco-credential. Flash forward to next summer in the Rose Garden, where the soft drinks are flowing and Sam Donaldson, his favorite lotion buddy, is over to gossip about Orrin Hatch’s recent turn on Larry King Live. Just the two of them, sprawled on
Brad Wetzler, a senior editor of Outside, was born and raised in Prairie Village, Kansas.