Robert J. Dole presents a contradictory puzzle. His rapid-fire one-liners can send a crowd into gales of laughter, while he folds his arms in a deadpan pose and rolls his eyes mischievously. He says his comic skills come from his father, a grain elevator manager in his tiny hometown of Russell, Kan.
But behind the quips is an intensely serious man who fought back from a near-fatal wound in World War II to become a lawyer, then a congressman, and this year the Republican majority leader of the Senate. His zeal for work often astounds those who work with him.
He worries aloud and frequently about whether the economy is failing, and he watched impatiently as the White House put other issues in front of deficit reduction. Yet after watching him in the recent budget battle, his deputy Senate leader, Alan K. Simpson (R) of Wyoming, concludes, ``He's a patient and optimistic man.''
A fierce partisan combatant in his early days in Congress, he once thought the Farm Bureau was a ``bunch of left-leaning marshmallows,'' former aide William Taggart says. Now Dole holds to no strong political ideology. He's a ``pragmatist, not a philosophical purist,'' says former Kansas Gov. Robert Bennett.
It was his dedication to work that apparently caused the breakup of his first marriage. But even his divorce is contradictory. He and his former wife, Phyllis Buzick, who has since remarried, are said to have an amicable relationship. ``I think he's one of the finest Americans that this country will ever see,'' she said in an interview earlier this year.
Dole is now married to Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, whose life style is much like his own. When the two traveled to Topeka in January, many admirers sported ``Dole for President'' buttons that displayed pictures of both Doles. The buttons did not say which one should be president.