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You must not be human if you saw but weren't moved by Sen. Bob Dole's salute to former President George H.W. Bush this week as he faced Bush's casket in the Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C.

Both men served our country in World War II, with Bush's plane famously shot down during battle and Dole shot and permanently physically affected by injuries from machine gun fire. Each served our nation via political life, too -- Dole as a Kansas senator and longtime congressional leader who ran for president and lost to Bill Clinton in 1996.

There's much more to both Bush, who died at age 94, and Dole, but the latter's salute seems to sum up the character of each, somehow.

Arriving in the rotunda via wheelchair, 95-year-old Dole was helped by an aide to stand and steady himself. With what clearly took a lot of effort, Dole saluted Bush's casket and then sat back down with assistance.

They may have once been political opponents at times. But it's obvious their sense of duty and honor as Americans first -- political views and competition second -- and respect for each other as combat veterans and national servants, eclipsed all else.

And I've seen and heard many people since Dole's salute Tuesday -- and as honors have been bestowed on Bush as he is laid to rest -- lament that honor and respect among us as Americans seems to have been left to a generation quickly dying out.

It doesn't have to be that way.

The best way to lead is by example, and the World War II generation, for example, has done that. Why aren't more of us today listening and acting accordingly?

Let's step it up.

There is no reason why we, collectively, can't change our tune immediately. It starts with each of us.

Political debates don't have to stop. Respectful dialogue about which ideas are best for our country can and should continue. But the key is "respectful." Continue to offer respect for those with whom you disagree.

Maybe it's social media. Many people type things from behind a computer screen that they'd never say in a face-to-face conversation. We need to knock that off.

When it all comes down to it, we have more in common as Americans and as human beings than what divides us. And we need to demand honor and respect from our leaders, too.

Honor, as defined by Merriam-Webster: "good name or public esteem: reputation; a showing of usually merited respect: recognition."

Respect, as defined by Merriam-Webster: "an act of giving particular attention: consideration; high or special regard: esteem."

We still have honor and respect in the USA. We need to bring it back to real life and value it again.

Open the door for an elderly or disabled person when you're going into a store. Offer to shovel snow for the busy single mom with very young children who lives in your neighborhood. Help or stand by waiting for a tow truck with that guy whose car died in the middle of nowhere on a cold night.

More people need to look up from their computer screens -- phones, electronic tablets, whatever -- and interact with others in the real world, in real-world ways.

I know I may be talking about things that were done in an era that's gone forever. Most people know they can't leave their house doors unlocked these days, or even leave a vehicle unlocked when they go into the grocery store for a few minutes.

Not many folks will leave the keys in the car, sure that no one will take off with it. Picking up a hitchhiker? It's just not done these days out of safety concerns for both parties.

We can't get back "the good old days." But we can make these days better.

I imagine just what it took for Dole to offer that salute.

In his mid-90s, who knows how frail he is? Age takes a toll on all of us. Perhaps with age, his war injuries are even harder on him. He may have someone help him get dressed each day now. He clearly can't walk either at all or very far. He seemed barely able to stand.

I wonder what he thinks if he watches what goes on these days -- the discord and hatefulness among Americans in general -- the great divides that sometimes seem to have created a chasm too wide for us to bridge now.

What seemed once to be political standards appear to have gone by the wayside. If Democrats lost an election, Republicans took over, and vice versa. Now, even the simple passing of the torch of leadership -- power? -- appears no longer "normal."

Watch what's happening in Wisconsin. As The Associated Press has reported, Republican lawmakers in their lame duck session there are trying to take away power from the governor and attorney general's posts -- with Democrats incoming for both -- and Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who lost the election, seems inclined to sign the legislation to do so.

"You're here because you don't want to give up power," Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said as debate concluded in that chamber, the AP reported Wednesday. "You're sore losers. Does anybody think this is the right way to do business? If you vote for this, shame on you. You will go down in history as a disgrace."

"You're sore losers" -- I think that about sums it up. Of course, would the Democrats of today do the same thing if given a chance? Hm.

We've seen so many "unprecedented" negative moments in politics just in the last couple of years that it's no wonder many feel as though "honor" and "respect" are dying away with "The Greatest Generation."

Public opinion seems to sway with the latest wind that blows, having no solid foundation any longer. "Basics" aren't basics anymore. Middle ground eludes us. The far left or the far right squeeze out the middle until the "average person" suffocates and stumbles away from the fray.

I wonder if our country has been beaten to its knees by our own divisions, and what it will take for us to rise.

I don't know. I just don't know.

But I'll tell you one thing: When Bob Dole stood for that moment and saluted a fellow American, I saw steel in that man. I saw courage and dignity; I saw honor and respect; I saw determination and pride.

And I saw the bright hope that remains for our country, if only we can find the steel in ourselves again.

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Penny Weaver is the general manager and editor of the JG-TC. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of the JG-TC. Contact her at or 217-238-6863, and follow her on Twitter @PennyWeaver.


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