Bob Dole Remembered For Quips That Would 'Let The Air Out of The Partisan Balloons'

A funeral ceremony for former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole was held Friday at Washington National Cathedral, where friends and former political colleagues honored the former World War II veteran, with one former Senator saying Dole's sarcastic sense of humor was used as a weapon to "let the air out of the partisan balloons."

Dole, a World War II veteran and former state representative in Kansas before serving in the U.S. House and Senate for a combined 36 years and running multiple presidential and vice presidential campaigns, died at the age of 98 Sunday.

Dozens of current and former leaders from across politics like former president Bill Clinton, members of Congress, three vice presidents and several Cabinet officials were in attendance of the ceremony that included a speech by President Joe Biden, who honored the man he called a friend of over 50 years.

"He could be partisan, and that was fine," Biden said. "Americans have been partisan since Jefferson and Hamilton squared off in George Washington's Cabinet. But like them, Bob Dole was a patriot."

Former Republican Kansas Senator Pat Roberts said Dole's sarcastic, deadpan humor was an effective political tool to let "the air out of the partisan balloons."

Following the service at the cathedral, Dole's casket was taken to the World War II memorial, which opened to the public on the National Mall in 2004, and Roberts said it may not exist without Dole, who spent years advocating for the monument's creation.

Roberts remembered times that he saw Dole at the memorial on Saturday mornings, there to speak to the men that served in the same war he did, many of which were at the memorial specifically on trips that Dole himself frequently organized.

Dole's body lied in state in the Capitol building Thursday and will have additional memorial services in his home state and hometown of Russell, Kansas, this weekend before being buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Bob Dole Funeral, Joe Biden, Washington Cathedral
President Joe Biden walks to speak during the funeral of former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas at the Washington National Cathedral December 10, 2021, in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Dole was honored Friday as top leaders from both parties saluted the longtime Kansas senator's ability to practice bare-knuckle politics without compromising his civility.

Displaying a bipartisanship rare in modern government, politicians in office and out came together to pay homage to Dole's hard-scrabble rise from wounded war veteran to Senate stalwart to three-time, unsuccessful presidential candidate.

"There's something that connects that past and present, war time and peace, then and now," said Biden, who touched Dole's casket before addressing the service. "The courage, the grit, the goodness and the grace of 2nd Lieutenant Bob Dole, who became Congressman Dole, Senator Dole, statesman, husband, father, friend, colleague and—a word that's often overused, but not here—a genuine hero."

Besides his sharp, often sarcastic tongue, among Dole's best-known attributes were his pragmatism and self-deprecating wit—representing the sense of compromise of a bygone era.

While calling him a "giant of our time and of all time," Biden said Dole was worried at the end of his life about American democracy being threatened by bitter political battles and had noted that infighting from both parties "grows more unacceptable day by day."

Still, Democrats and Republicans coming together to praise Dole's ability to put country and public service over ideology was the overriding theme.

Biden offered vivid, visceral details during his eulogy, speaking about Dole being born a child of the Dust Bowl, volunteering as a young man for military service and how he came back to "painful" years recovering from his wounds.

"God, what courage Bob Dole had," the president said.

Dole's daughter, Robin, read a letter her father wrote to his staff in which he said "I believe in the future of the United States of America."

"Bob Dole understood that it was just not enough recognition that this Greatest Generation deserved," Roberts said. "It was reflection and renewal, and it was for the Greatest Generation to inspire the next generation."

Dole was a longtime advocate for the Honor Flight Network, which arranges for veterans to travel to Washington to see memorials dedicated to their service.

Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Dole once told him he thought about being buried at the World War II memorial. Daschle also said Dole's sense of duty extended beyond veterans, including when he left the presidential campaign trail to attend the 1996 graduation party of a girl paralyzed in a car crash.

Addressing the crowd at the memorial, actor Tom Hanks asked, "How many structures in this city exist but for the efforts of one man?"

"It was Bob Dole who willed this memorial into place," said Hanks, who starred in the World War II drama "Saving Private Ryan."

Dole suffered paralyzing, near-fatal wounds during World War II. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recalled how, after Dole was hit amid fighting in the Italian mountains in 1945, he was dragged behind a wall by a fellow soldier and "lay there, facing up in the dirt. Not knowing if he would live or die. Unable to move as the battle raged around him. And he lay there for 10 consecutive hours before medics were able to reach him."

"He served the army. He served the state of Kansas. He served his political party. But, above all, he served his country and he served his fellow Americans," Milley said. "Bob Dole always, always put his country first."

The service ended with Milley escorting Dole's wife, former North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole, as she and Robin touched a wreath in his honor, then bowed their heads in prayer as taps was played.

Dole served as a Kansas state legislator before running for Congress in 1960, joining the House for eight years then going on to win the Senate seat.

Dole was early in his career seen as a GOP "hatchet man." He was a mentee of Richard Nixon and chairman of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate era. During his Senate career, though, Dole grew to see the value of reaching across the aisle and secured his more lasting achievements.

Those included the Americans with Disabilities Act that to this day ensures a level of accessibility as a civil right. Dole also fought to protect Social Security benefits for elderly Americans and supported civil rights—even if such actions weren't always politically popular with everyone.

"Over the opposition of many in his party and some in mine, he managed a bill to create a federal holiday in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr.," Biden said. "Bob Dole did that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bob Dole Funeral, Joe Biden, Washington Cathedral
A military honor guard carries the casket of the late former Senator Robert Dole at the conclusion of his funeral service at Washington National Cathedral Friday in Washington, DC. Dole, a veteran who was severely injured in World War II, was a Republican Senator from Kansas from 1969 to 1996. He ran for president three times and became the Republican nominee for president in 1996. Alex Wong/Getty Images