Michael Dukakis: The Awesome80s Interview, Part 2
By Patrick Mondout
Here is part two of our interview with Michael Dukakis. (Part
1 can be found here.) In part two, Dukakis discusses who else he
considered as a running mate, former Vice President Dan Quayle, the Monica
Lewinsky affair and the Clinton legacy, and how he'd like to be
Dan Quayle was ridiculed for some of the misstatements he
made and was called an "intellectual lightweight." Many point to
the "You're no Jack Kennedy" line made by your running mate,
Senator Bentsen, as the moment when Quayle’s reputation irreparable
changed for the worse. What is your opinion of Bush's vice-presidential
choice and do you believe these perceptions of Quayle are deserved?
If the most important criterion for picking a running mate is
that that person could be a first rate president if something happened to
the president, then I think most Americans will agree that Quayle didn’t
meet that test, and that George Bush wasn’t holding him to it.
Ultimately, Bush’s choice of Quayle hurt him badly, but in 1992, not in
Speaking of choices, would you be willing to give us some
insight into other potential vice-presidential running mates you
I had a very strong short list of potential running mates that
included Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, John Glenn and others in addition to
Lloyd Bentsen. For a variety of reasons Bentsen seemed to be the logical
choice, and he was an excellent running mate for me.
In 1984, presidential candidate Jesse Jackson appeared on
Saturday Night Live and poked fun at himself. In 1992, Bill Clinton
allowed MTV to interview him and played the saxophone in Tom Cruise
sunglasses on Arsenio Hall. It is now a given that major candidates will
make appearances on Oprah, Letterman, Leno, and even Regis and Kathy Lee.
Did you consider any such "unusual" (for their time)
Had the popular TV shows been interested in showcasing
presidential candidates, I’m sure I would have done them, but, as you
point out, they weren’t doing that in 1988. I did play the trumpet on
numerous occasions, however!
I'll bet there's an MP3 of your performance out there
somewhere! Speaking of performance, the '92 Clinton Campaign was praised
for what it called Rapid Response. This was the Clinton team’s
term for being prepared to respond to an attack - sometimes even before it
was made - with a response and an appropriate counter-attack. In 1988 you
were attacked from all sides. First, Al Gore’s campaign brought up the
"Willie Horton" issue during the Democratic primaries. Then
Reagan called you an “invalid” while Bush called you a “bozo.”
Then Reagan and Bush began attacking your patriotism (with subsequent
visits by Bush to nearly every flag factory in the country), and finally
Floyd Brown ran race-baiting "Willie Horton" commercials on
Bush’s behalf. Do you regret not being more responsive to the attacks
and not going more negative yourself?
Al Gore did not first bring up the Willie Horton issue for
the first time in the 1988 campaign. The Massachusetts furlough program
had been a controversial issue for a long time in my state. It was first
implemented by a Republican governor. I tightened it up substantially, but
that didn’t prevent Horton from doing what he did. Actually, the most
liberal furlough program in the country in 1988 was the Reagan-Bush
furlough program in the Federal prison system. They were furloughing
people for up to forty-five days at a time, and one of their furloughs murdered
a young, pregnant mother in the Southwest. Unfortunately, I never said
that, and that was a pretty dumb thing to do.
Having a record as a governor has its advantages and
disadvantages. President Ford tried to use Governor Carter's record in
Georgia against him in 1976, President Bush attempted to do the same to
Arkansas Governor Clinton in '92, and Al Gore returned the favor to Texas
Governor Bush in 2000. Given the Bush campaign's attacks on your
gubernatorial record - both on the clean-up of the Boston Harbor and on
the prison-release program - do you feel it was an advantage running as a
governor as opposed to say, from the Senate?
Any incumbent, whether governor or member of Congress, is going
to have his record attacked if he runs for the Presidency. That just goes
with the territory.
With the advantage of hindsight, how would a Dukakis
administration made a difference in what are now remembered as the Bush
George Bush seemed either unwilling or unable to deal with the
serious economic problems that hit us in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I
would certainly have taken a much more aggressive approach than Bush
seemed to be taking when he was president. I would have also much more
aggressively pursued universal health care. Bush was a total bust on the
Speaking of an aggressive approach, it certainly appeared
that you were prepared to answer a question about the death penalty in
that second debate with George Bush, but nothing could have prepared you
for the bizarre manner in which Bernard Shaw asked it. Do you feel the way
in which he phrased the question was fair and are you satisfied with they
way you answered him?
I didn’t think Bernie Shaw’s question about the death penalty
was unfair. Unfortunately, I had been asked that question hundred of
times, and I answered it as if I was answering it for the four or five
hundredth time. That was a big mistake.
On the subject of sounding like you are reading from a
script, the 2000 major party conventions in Los Angeles and Philadelphia
were criticized as being "too scripted." Certainly the drama of
the Democratic conventions in ’60, '68 and '44 seems to be a thing of
the past. And in contrast to ’92, the extremists on the far right were
kept on a short leash this time by the Republican leadership. How have the
conventions changed in the time since your nomination and do you feel the
conventions still serve a valuable purpose?
Conventions are very different today than they were decades ago
because the national primary system has already picked the winner.
Nevertheless, I believe they are a valuable part of the process because
they give the candidate a chance to showcase his issues and because they
bring the party together. But we shouldn’t be surprised if they are more
scripted than they used to be.
Let's turn to Bill Clinton and his legacy. Some have
suggested that, like Nixon, he had greatness within his grasp and that
also like Nixon, a fatal personality flaw prevented him from achieving
greatness. Monica-gate and impeachment will be remembered. However, it is
also extremely rare for a president to preside through two terms of
uninterrupted peace and prosperity. What is your view of Clinton’s
performance and how does he rate with other 20th Century presidents?
While what Bill Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky was dumb and
wrong, his presidency is certainly one of the best and most effective that
I have ever experienced. Nor did he act in a way that was not
consistent with traditional Democratic ideals and philosophies.
Assuming Bill Clinton was right when proclaimed the Era of
Big Government was over, what would you say to those on the Left who feel
disheartened after eight years of so-called New Democrats in the White
House (save perhaps Hillary, Robert Reich and George Stephanopoulos), the
retirement of classic liberals like Senator Moynihan, and with fiscal
conservatives controlling both houses of Congress?
He may have proclaimed that the era of big government was over,
and he and Al Gore, unlike previous Republican presidents, were able to
substantially reduce the number of people working for the Federal
government. But government under Clinton remained an active force for
good, and it continues to be that kind of government even during the
so-called lame duck period. Just look at the stream of executive orders
and policy innovations that have been taking place since the
It is difficult to predict the future. A relevant example is
the presidency of George Bush Sr. He seemed unbeatable as late as August
1991 due to his record approval rating in the aftermath of the Gulf War
and yet Clinton easily beat him just over a year later. Nonetheless,
we’d like you to look into your crystal ball and tell us what you
believe will be the greatest challenges facing our generation when we come
to power in 10-20 years.
I believe our biggest domestic challenge is to ensure that all
Americans, not just the wealthy, share in our economic good fortune in all
respects. Our major international challenge is to provide the kind of
leadership in cooperation with the international community that will
increasingly rule out force as a means of settling differences between and
among nations. That is a huge challenge, and I believe a great one for
today’s younger generation.
Historians will have their say, but how would you
like to be remembered?
I still feel very young and am as committed as ever to public
service. And I hope that is what people will remember about Mike
Dukakis—a guy who loved and was committed to public service and who is
now doing everything he can to encourage young people across this country
to get deeply involved in politics and public service at every level.
We're sure you will be remembered that way - at least by us!
Thank you, Governor Dukakis, for your considerable efforts as a public
servant and for taking the time to share your thoughts with Awesome80s.com
and our readers.
Good luck, and I hope this responds to your questions and
(Notes: The underlined emphasis in Gov. Dukakis' responses are his.
We'd like to thank Loh-Sze Leung of UCLA and "Erin" at
Northeastern University for their assistance.)