Michael Dukakis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search

Michael Stanley Dukakis (born November 3, 1933) is an American Democratic politician, former Governor of Massachusetts, and former presidential candidate, born in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Greek-immigrant parents.

Michael Dukakis
Michael Dukakis
Official Massachusetts State House Portrait of Dukakis
Official Massachusetts State House Portrait of Dukakis


Early career

Dukakis' Greek immigrant mother was a Massachusetts schoolteacher. She lost not only her native Greek accent, but her New England accent as well because she would not accept anything that would hinder her teaching ability. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1955, served in the U.S. Army, and then received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1960. After serving for a time in the Massachusetts legislature, Dukakis was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1974, defeating the incumbent Republican Francis W. Sargent during a period of fiscal crisis. Dukakis won in part by pledging not to increase the state's sales tax to balance the state budget, but did so soon after taking office. He gained some notoriety as the only person in the state Government who went to work during the great Blizzard of 1978. During the storm, he went into local TV studios in a sweater to announce emergency bulletins. Dukakis is also remembered for his 1977 exoneration of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists whose trial sparked protests around the world, and who were electrocuted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1927.

However this performance did not prove enough to offset a backlash against the state's high sales and property tax rates, which turned out to be the predominant issue in the 1978 gubernatorial campaign. Dukakis lost his re-election bid to Edward J. King in the Democratic primary, as King rode the wave against high property taxes along with the passing of a binding petition on the state ballot that limited property tax rates to 2 1/2% of the property valuation. Dukakis defeated King 4 years later in a re-match in the Democratic primary, and easily defeated his Republican opponent in the November election. Future Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry was elected Lieutenant Governor on the same ballot with Dukakis, and served in the Dukakis administration from 1983 to 1985.

Dukakis served as Governor again from 1983 until 1991 (winning re-election in 1986 with more than 60 percent of the vote), during which time he presided over a high-tech boom and a period of prosperity in Massachusetts. Residents of the city of Boston and its surrounding areas remember him for the improvements he made to Boston's mass transit system, especially major renovations to the city's underground trains. He was known as the only governor who rode the subway to the state capitol every day.

Presidential candidate

Using the phenomenon termed the "Massachusetts Miracle" to promote his campaign, Dukakis sought the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States in the 1988 elections, prevailing over a primary field which included Jesse Jackson, Richard Gephardt, Gary Hart and Albert Gore, among others, largely attributed to John Sasso, his campaign manager. Sasso, however, was among two aides dismissed (Paul Tully was the other one) when a video showing plagiarism by rival candidate Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) was made public and an embarrassed Biden was forced to withdraw from the race. This situation got uglier when Tully implied that it was Dick Gephardt's campaign (as opposed to Dukakis' campaign) that actually passed along the damaging information on Biden.

And despite the claims that Dukakis always 'turned the other cheek,' he did run a particularly effective commercial against rival Dick Gephardt that featured a tumbler doing somersaults while the announcer said, "Dick Gephardt has been flip-flopping over the issues." Dukakis finished third in the Iowa caucuses and then became the first candidate to ever win a contested New Hampshire primary by more than ten points with Gephardt finishing second. Dukakis finished first in Minnesota and second in South Dakota before winning five states on March 8, 1988, the "Super Tuesday" primaries. As his competition continued to fade, Dukakis wound up with a seven-week stretch of one-on-one elections between himself and controversial civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Dukakis lost the Michigan caucus to Jackson but then buried him by margins of two to one in Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, and New Jersey, clinching the nomination on June 7, 1988.

During the general election campaign, Vice President George H. W. Bush, the Republican nominee, launched several attacks on Dukakis for his traditionally liberal positions on many issues. These included Dukakis's statement during the primary season that he was "a card-carrying member of" the American Civil Liberties Union, his veto of legislation requiring public school teachers to lead pupils in the Pledge of Allegiance, and his opposition to the resumption of capital punishment in the United States.

Dukakis had trouble with the personality that he projected to the voting public. His reserved and stoic nature was easily misinterpreted to be a lack of passion (which went against the ethnic stereotype of his heritage, Greek-American). Dukakis was often refered to as, "Zorba the Clerk."

Views on capital punishment

The issue of capital punishment came up at the October 13, 1988 debate between the two presidential nominees. Bernard Shaw, the moderator of the debate, asked Dukakis, "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis [his wife] were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?" Dukakis replied coolly, "No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life," and explained his stance. The reply was sincere and well-put, but some felt Dukakis' answer lacked the emotion needed for a question in which he was forced to consider his wife's death. Many believe that this in part cost Dukakis the election. Other commentators thought the question itself was unfair, in that it injected an irrelevant emotional element into the discussion of a policy issue.

Prison furlough program issue

The most controversial of Bush's attacks involved Dukakis's support for a prison furlough program that resulted in the release of convicted murderer Willie Horton, who committed a rape in Maryland after his escape. Al Gore was the first candidate to publicly raise the furlough issue, in a debate held in New York prior to the Democratic primary in that state, although Gore never mentioned Horton by name.

Bush did mention Horton by name in a speech in June, 1988 and his campaign brought up the Horton case repeatedly. An independent group, the National Security Political Action Committee, aired an ad entitled "Weekend Passes" which used a mug shot image of Horton, who is African American. That ad campaign was followed by a separate Bush campaign ad, "Revolving Door," criticizing Dukakis over the furlough program without mentioning Horton. Dukakis was unable to refute criticism of his veto of a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature to limit the furlough program. He refused to apologize to Horton's victims.

Almost forgotten in the furor, however, was that Dukakis himself ran a furlough advertisement in the Southwest that featured a Hispanic killer, Angel Medrano. Dukakis was trying to accuse Bush of hypocrisy since Medrano escaped from the federal furlough program under President Ronald Reagan. But the commercial backfired when it caused the public simply to see Dukakis as just as negative a campaigner as Bush was.

Public relations failure

Dukakis has been blamed for allowing "liberal" to come to be considered a derogatory term. He was criticized during the campaign for a perceived softness on defense issues, particularly the controversial "Star Wars" SDI program, which Dukakis promised to scale down (although not cancel). In response to this, Dukakis orchestrated what would become the key image of his campaign, albeit not for the reasons he intended; in September 1988 Dukakis visited the General Dynamics plant in Michigan to take part in a photo op in an M1 Abrams tank. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom had been photographed in a similar situation in 1986, riding in a Challenger while wearing a scarf; although somewhat out of character, the image was effective and helped Thatcher's re-election prospects. Dukakis' "tank moment" was much less successful. Filmed wearing a safety helmet that seemed too large for his head, Dukakis looked awkward, out of place, and decidely uncomfortable in a military setting. Footage of Dukakis was used by the Bush campaign as evidence he would not make a good commander-in-chief, and "Dukakis in the tank" remains shorthand for backfired public relations outings.

Election defeat

Dukakis' vice-presidential candidate was Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. The Dukakis/Bentsen ticket lost the election in an electoral college landslide, carrying only 10 states and the District of Columbia. Dukakis himself blames his defeat on the time he spent doing gubernatorial work in Massachusetts in the final weeks of the campaign, when many believed he should have been campaigning across the country.

Despite Dukakis' loss, his performance was a marked improvement over previous Democratic efforts. Dukakis made some strong showings in rural states that typically vote Republican. He swept Iowa, winning it by ten points, an impressive feat for a state that previously voted Republican in the last five elections (and did not do so again until 2004). He got 43% of the vote in Kansas, a surprising showing in a state that typically votes in landslide numbers for Republicans. In another surprising showing, he received 47% in South Dakota. In Montana, Dukakis racked up a close 46% of the vote, in a state that typically goes Republican by twenty points (Reagan and Bush 43 in each of their elections are examples of this).

If Dukakis cut into the Republican base in the midwest, he failed to dent the emerging GOP stronghold in the south. He lost most of the south in a landslide, with Bush's totals reaching around 60% in most states. Ironically, he was able to hold Bush to 55% in Texas, though this may have been due to Lloyd Bentsen's presence on the ticket. He also carried most of the southern-central parishes of Louisiana, depsite losing the state. He held onto the border state of West Virginia, and he captured 48% of the vote in Missouri. He also carried 41% in Oklahoma, a bigger share than any Democrat since Carter and up to 2004.

In the Rust Belt, Dukakis also performed poorly. He lost Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and New Jersey. He won his home state of Massachusetts by only eight points, perhaps due to the unrelenting criticism of his record as governor. Dukakis' performance in the northeast was also poor, losing Maryland, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maine. He won New York, but by a slim margin. In the Pacific Northwest, Dukakis did much better, capturing both Washington and Oregon.

Overall, Dukakis won a higher percentage of the popular vote than either Walter Mondale in 1984 or Bill Clinton (in a three way race) in 1992.

Subsequent activities

His final two years as governor were marked by increased criticism of his policies and by significant tax increases, as Massachusetts was not spared the economic effects of the U.S. economy's "soft landing" at the end of the 1980s and the recession of 1990. He did not run for a fourth term in 1990; Boston University President John Silber won the Democratic nomination, and lost the general election to William Weld.

After the end of his term, he served on the board of directors for Amtrak, and became a professor of political science at Northeastern University in Massachusetts and guest professor of Policy Studies at UCLA. He continued to talk in media interviews about the "negative" 1988 Bush campaign, beginning with his press conference on the day after the election, continuing throughout Bush's term, and even subsequent to Bush's defeat in the 1992 election.

Dukakis is married to Katherine D. (Kitty) Dukakis. Their children are John, Andrea and Kara. The Dukakises continue to reside in his boyhood home in Brookline, Massachusetts.

He is the cousin of actress Olympia Dukakis.

Further reading

External links

Preceded by:
Francis W. Sargent
Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by:
Edward J. King
Preceded by:
Edward J. King
Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by:
William Weld
Preceded by:
Walter Mondale
Democratic Party Presidential candidate
1988 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Bill Clinton
United States Democratic Party Presidential Nominees Democratic Party
Jackson | Van Buren | Polk | Cass | Pierce | Buchanan | Douglas/Breckinridge(SD) | McClellan | Seymour | Greeley | Tilden | Hancock | Cleveland | Bryan | Parker | Bryan | Wilson | Cox | Davis | Smith | Roosevelt | Truman | Stevenson | Kennedy | Johnson | Humphrey | McGovern | Carter | Mondale | Dukakis | Clinton | Gore | Kerry
Personal tools