IF I DIDN'T know Bob Dole was from Kansas, I might suspect as much simply by looking at him. His dour countenance says as much about life on the prairie as the smirking visage of another Kansan, unsuccessful 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart, does not.
The adulterous Mr. Hart, though, was from Ottawa, which is in the eastern part of the state that I am (only coincidentally) more familiar with. The seemingly pious Mr. Dole is from those flatter, treeless regions beyond Wichita, which is as far west as I ever ventured in the Sunflower State.
I spent my college years in Baldwin City, smaller than Dole's Russell and located between Ottawa and Lawrence. I went to Baker, a little liberal arts school that was founded by the Methodists in 1858, making it the oldest college in the state. I would ride the bus to Wichita to visit my girlfriend, who was a student at a Catholic nursing school, St. Francis.
The farther west that Greyhound went the more desolate the surroundings. Wichita, the largest city in Kansas (the big Kansas City is on the Missouri side of the river), is nothing but a small town that forgot to stop spreading. Its skyline is no threat to air traffic.
City boy that I am, it was hard to imagine anyone living west of Wichita. It was bad enough in Baldwin, with its one flashing-yellow traffic light, one movie theater and two taverns, neither of which sold anything other than 3.2 beer. You had to hitch a ride nine miles down the road to Edgerton to get anything stronger.
Back then I discovered western Kansans are very focused people, the kind who don't let perpetual boredom or one of those longer than necessary Midwest winters get them down. Russell-born Dole certainly comes across that way -- very focused, very deliberate, no time for nonsense or for pain.
Just look at the way he handled the Republican National Convention. He wasn't about to let anything distract conventioneers from their mission -- his unquestioned nomination a celebratory environment that would provide his campaign a needed lift.
He gave the pro-life, anti-affirmative action crowd the platform they wanted. He gave the pro-choice, limited government intervention crowd the speaker they wanted -- Colin Powell.
Mr. Powell either is a very politically astute retired general or has some real heavyweights advising him behind the scenes. Republicans may rave about what Mr. Powell's convention speech did for the party, but that pales in comparison to what it did for him.
His simple declaration that, "You all know that I believe in a woman's right to choose and I strongly support affirmative action," was perfectly calculated to keep him in the picture to run for the White House four years hence.
The general has captured the middle ground that Bob Dole so coveted this election that he chose Jack Kemp as the next best thing to Colin Powell. But Mr. Kemp is so eager to become vice president that he has already soiled his moderate credentials by ditching his earlier opposition to right-wing immigration reforms.
Conversely, Mr. Powell has stood his ground. He knows whatever boost Mr. Dole gets from the GOP convention will likely be lost during the Democratic assembly.
The best shot for the Republicans still looks like 2000. By then the GOP will be begging for a moderate to get that last taste of Newt Gingrich out of their mouths.
Mr. Powell's convention speech wasn't great. But he raised his voice at the appropriate times and the television savvy Republicans did the rest with their cheers. It was a speech designed to comfort black Republicans and moderates and raise their hopes that Candidate Powell will swell their ranks over the ,, next four years.
Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.
Pub Date: 8/17/96