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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 remembered.


Awesome80s: 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?

Michael Dukakis: 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 1988.

Awesome80s: Speaking of choices, would you be willing to give us some insight into other potential vice-presidential running mates you considered?

Michael Dukakis: 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.

Awesome80s: 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) appearances?

Michael Dukakis: 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!

Awesome80s: 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?

Michael Dukakis: 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.

Awesome80s: 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?

Michael Dukakis: 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.

Awesome80s: With the advantage of hindsight, how would a Dukakis administration made a difference in what are now remembered as the Bush years (1989-1992)?

Michael Dukakis: 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 issue.

Awesome80s: 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?

Michael Dukakis: 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.

Awesome80s: 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?

Michael Dukakis: 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.

Awesome80s: 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?

Michael Dukakis: 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. 

Awesome80s: 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?

Michael Dukakis: 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 election.

Awesome80s: 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.

Michael Dukakis: 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.

Awesome80s: Historians will have their say, but how would you like to be remembered?

Michael Dukakis: 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.

Awesome80s: 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 and our readers.

Michael Dukakis: Good luck, and I hope this responds to your questions and concerns.


(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.)




Governor Dukakis chose Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen as his vice-presidential running mate.

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