Magazine article The Spectator

Viagra on the Dole

Magazine article The Spectator

Viagra on the Dole

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

IN 1996, Bob Dole described his presidential campaign as `one last mission for my generation'. Three years later, fortified by Viagra, Bob's back. In his nightly TV commercials for the l'il blue diamonds, the second world war veteran begins by conceding that `it's a little embarrassing to talk about ED' and clutches his withered arm, subtly reminding the audience that, while this appendage may hang limp and useless, these days nothing else does. ED stands for `erectile dysfunction', from which hitherto none of us had known Bob suffered. From his various doomed presidential campaigns, we knew about his `electoral dysfunction', but there are, alas, no tablets you can take for that.

Nonetheless, the year 2000 beckons with yet another last mission for his generation. Bob's wife Elizabeth is the first 'serious' woman presidential candidate, which makes him the first serious candidate to be the first First Gentleman. Unfortunately, Bob Dole finds it hard to take anything seriously. The other day he gave an interview to the New York Times which suggested that, since the Viagra kicked in, his brains are in his crotch. It's a little embarrassing to talk about ED - Elizabeth Dole, that is - but Bob did his best. Asked why his wife, in contrast to his own approach, prefers carefully scripted speeches, he replied, 'I knew a lot about issues.'

Whether or not it's due to her knowing so little about issues, Bob couldn't help noticing the lack of big campaign donations: `If she can't raise the money, obviously it's pretty hard to be a candidate.' Bob himself was thinking of writing a cheque - to her rival, Senator John McCain. `He's not raising the money that George Bush is,' he said. 'I think we need to keep good people in the race. So I've thought about ways to help McCain.' Of course, despite Bob's best efforts, McCain could end up losing the nomination to Elizabeth. So, asked the Times, did Bob think his wife could beat Al Gore? `It's too early to tell,' he decided. All the Viagra in the world couldn't overcome the headache Elizabeth had that night: had the interview gone on another ten minutes, Bob would probably have endorsed Gore.

Opposites attract, but rarely on such a scale as the Doles, whose marriage is almost as bizarre as the Clintons'. Elizabeth is rehearsed to the hilt, Bob is open-mike night at the Improv. Club. In the '96 campaign, he could never stay `on message': he had plenty of messages but kept wandering off them; Mrs Dole has no message but stays on it ever more fiercely. At a recent meeting with `business leaders', not only were her answers scripted and rehearsed, but so were their questions. Her aides had the grace to explain sheepishly, as they passed out the permitted topics to the chief execs, that they were only doing this because it was early in the campaign: Mrs Dole has only just stepped down from her job with the Red Cross; obviously, she'll loosen up and start taking unscripted questions later on - say, around late October next year. For the most part, perfect strangers have been happy to string along. With hindsight, we should have known that her husband would be the only guy not to stick to the script.

Mrs Dole went on CBS to do a bit of damage limitation, confirming rumours that she'd locked Viagra Boy out of their pad. `Bob had a little visit to the family woodshed. He looked pretty good there,' she purred, her genteel ante-bellum vowels forcing themselves through her unwavering smile. The `Dole woodshed' is an alarming image - a nightmare anti-Viagra ad where Bob is stretched across half a cord of split logs while his steel magnolia flays him into submission. In fact, the Doles live in the Watergate complex in Washington. But a couple of months back they also bought the place next door -- Monica Lewinsky's old apartment - and it seems certain that Bob's going to be spending a lot of time in there, waiting, like Monica, for the call that never comes. He's beyond the help of Viagra now. …

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