Bob Dole Needs to Put the ‘I’ in Identity
Scott Harris has been thinking a lot about Bob Dole lately. He can’t seem to help himself. There’s something about Bob Dole that really bugs Scott Harris. And by now, you probably know what it is.
Yes, Scott Harris just can’t stand the way Bob Dole keeps referring to himself as Bob Dole.
You know, the way he says things like: “Make no mistake, Bob Dole is going to be the Republican nominee,” or “Make no mistake, Bob Dole won’t veto those bills.”
Scott Harris wonders why Bob Dole suddenly seems to have a problem with the pronouns I and me. If this isn’t a symptom of an identity crisis, what is?
Lately Bob Dole’s been sounding more like Bo Jackson than Bob Dole.
You remember Bo. Now there was a guy who never seemed to say I or me. It even became part of his marketing: Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball. . .
Sadly, Bo also got to know serious injury and hip replacement surgery. Now he knows retirement.
Scott Harris misses Bo.
Nope, nobody talked that talk the way Bo did. Then again, you hear it from a lot of jocks. Scott Harris has a theory about that. Perhaps these people have a psychological need to distance their private selves from their public personas. It’s hard to imagine Bo, at home, saying, “Honeybunch, Bo loves you,” or perhaps, “Quit nagging Bo!”
But to the outside world, Bo was two people: the Bo who was talking, and the Bo he was talking about. Scott Harris thinks Bo found this more comfortable because he was, in his heart and soul, basically a shy person, uncertain in public. He wasn’t boastful so much as Bo-stful. It was a job. The Bo he talked about wasn’t his true self, but rather a commodity--the superstar athlete, the man on the billboard.
But why is Bob Dole talking like this? Many people have noticed. As one pundit put it: “Bob Dole always refers to himself in the third person, as if he’s someplace else.” Reporters have asked him about this.
“Gets the name out,” Dole told one.
That sounds as though Bob Dole has been listening to lousy campaign advice. From the start, Republican rivals accused him of running on his resume, of having a hollow campaign, of having trouble articulating what George Bush famously called “the vision thing.” Pat Buchanan has his fiery convictions and Steve Forbes has his flat tax. Bob Dole was saying things like, “You want Ronald Reagan, I can be Ronald Reagan.”
Yikes. This only reinforced suspicions that Bob Dole was a malleable soul who lacked convictions of his own. (One cartoonist put Dole in a plaid shirt at a piano: “You want Lamar Alexander, I can be Lamar Alexander.”)
But at least Bob Dole said “I” that time. Now, as if overcompensating, as if to prove Bob Dole is Bob Dole, dammit, and not somebody else, he stumps around barking: “Bob Dole believes . . . .” Of course, he still struggles with explaining his beliefs concerning, say, abortion.
Yes, Bob Dole gets his name out, but he needs to do more than that.
Scott Harris would trust Bob Dole more, would believe Bob Dole more, if he talked like a normal human being. Scott Harris has read enough campaign stories to know that, in interviews, Bob Dole says “I” fairly often, that he has difficulty delivering simple sound bites because he knows the world is not a simple place. It’s on the podium, speechifying in front of TV cameras, that he becomes that other Bob Dole.
It doesn’t just sound unpresidential. It sounds ridiculous.
Imagine how some of history’s more profound declarations might have sounded:
“Rene Descartes thinks, therefore he is.”
“Give Patrick Henry liberty or give Patrick Henry death!”
“As Abraham Lincoln would not be a slave, so Abraham Lincoln would not be a master.”
“Winston Churchill has nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Then again, consider these:
“Richard Nixon is not a crook.”
“Read George Bush’s lips.”
“Bill Clinton didn’t inhale.”
“Popeye is what Popeye is. Popeye is the sailor man.”
See what Scott Harris means? The pronouns I, me and my have a undeniable power, a kind of gravity. Those pronouns speak with the pride of ownership. It’s “Here’s what I believe,” not “Here’s what he believes.” It’s fine for jocks to talk like that. It’s weird from somebody who wants the job that Lincoln once had.
By now you probably realize that Scott Harris has been perusing Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Scott Harris hasn’t found too many of those third-person references. For what it’s worth, the only one he’s found is from someone he’s already quoted:
“You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
No, presidential candidates shouldn’t talk like that.
Just out of curiosity, Scott Harris checked to see whether Bo Jackson or Bob Dole have said anything judged worthy of Bartlett’s. They haven’t. Bo’s time has come and gone. Bob Dole may yet make an enduring mark on history, especially if he fixes his “I” problem.
That’s what I think, anyway.
* Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, Calif. 91311. Please include a phone number.