Bob Dole was quite simply the greatest U.S. senator and the greatest American who served in the Senate of our lifetime.

He was great not because he survived once, twice, thrice, four separate times when he was fully expected to die but because of what he did in the 77-plus years after he survived horrific wounds in World War II. Those wounds left him paralyzed, lying in his own blood on an Italian hillside for six hours after Nazi ordnance shattered his shoulder and severely damaged his neck and spine. When the field surgeon “opened Dole up, there wasn’t much to go by: Nothing was in the right place, and half of it wasn’t there,” wrote Richard Ben Cramer in the book What It Takes. “They just sewed him back up. Nothing more to do. If he lived, sure as hell, he was never going to walk. Of course, they didn’t tell him that.”

But Dole moved his toes. He found he could move some fingers. And he agonizingly learned to move other parts of his body, one at a time, during the course of 39 months of excruciating, death-defying convalescence.

Eventually, Bob Dole moved the world.

And this, this is what people today still do not appreciate about Robert J. Dole. Yes, all the encomiums about Dole, in all the news outlets recounting his death on Dec. 5 at age 98, talk about how he was the classic “get it done” legislative tactician, a guy who cobbled together agreements by sweating out the small print and figuring out how to satisfy other politicians’ demands. Those accounts are true.

More than any other senator in memory, Dole, through sheer, stubborn tenacity, made the political system work, and every time the system worked, it subtly kept alive the public’s civic faith. It is no coincidence that the same faith, alas, steadily has eroded in the quarter-century since Dole left office.

What those accounts too often miss, though, is how much substance, how much benefit to the nation that Dole loved flowed from all those deals that gave new life to bills seemingly left for dead on the legislative battlefield. Oh, sure, the eulogies do note that Dole’s signal efforts in 1983 massively extended Social Security’s solvency and in 1990 forced passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet few or none mention the achievement, almost entirely Dole’s doing, that has materially benefited more working families than most other legislation of the past 40 years put together.

When Republican Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and then-President Ronald Reagan first pushed the idea of “supply-side” tax cuts, the “indexing” of the tax brackets to inflation was not part of the plan. Yet rampant inflation meant that workers’ tax rates rose significantly even if wages merely kept up with the cost of living. It was Dole, not originally Kemp or Reagan, who insisted that tax cuts would be worthless if “bracket creep” was allowed quickly to erode them. It was Dole who insisted that indexing be part of the famous Reagan-Kemp 1981 tax cut bill that he, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, negotiated through a skeptical Senate.

Not only has the indexing of brackets and exemptions kept the value of worker paychecks from eroding for four decades now, but it also eliminated tacit incentives for lawmakers and the Federal Reserve to pursue inflationary policies as a way to mask the true size of the federal debt. For 39 of the past 40 years, Bob Dole’s indexing thus has helped keep inflation itself at bay.

Yet probably 999 of 1,000 political professionals, much less members of the general public, do not know that indexing, which seems now so ordinary, was Bob Dole’s doing or that it was, at the time, a revolutionary change in tax policy.

And that’s just one example. Read through Reagan’s unabridged diaries and see how often he mentions relying on Dole to navigate Senate difficulties. Go through news clippings of Newt Gingrich’s supposedly “revolutionary” first 18 months as House Speaker and see how deftly Dole pushed the budget savings, the internal congressional and lobbying reforms, and other key legislation through the closely divided Senate despite its far more complicated parliamentary rules.

To this day, Dole remains responsible for so many of the best parts of the policy frameworks we take for granted. And then, after leaving his beloved Senate for a failed last run for president, Dole spent the next 25 years serving this nation’s veterans, literally thousands of whom could tell of how, on hundreds of days, he greeted them individually, one by one, for hours on end as they arrived on “honor flights” to the nation’s capital and on visits to the World War II Memorial.

Bob Dole was a man who viscerally loved his country. Loved it and served it, loyally and with an almost mystically fierce devotion. When it came to the inner man rather than bones and sinews, Bob Dole’s essentials were in the right place, all there in great working order.