BOSTON – Michael Dukakis, who served two terms as governor of Massachusetts and was the Democratic party’s candidate for President of the United States in 1988, spoke to The National Herald exclusively about the mistakes that cost him the White House. He was ahead of the late George H.W. Bush by approximately twenty percent after the Democratic convention and before the GOP’s conclave, but his failure to respond to negative ads turned things around.
“Everybody is aware what happened in 1988,” he said,” and I don’t blame anybody but myself for not responding effectively to Bush’s attacks. I wasn’t pleased with the kind of campaign Bush ran but the one thing that he deserves credit for as President is working with Gorbachev to end the Cold War. It was a great achievement and very important and the one that we have to be thinking about as the new President of ours seems to be taking us right back to a cold war again and we don’t need that. We spent over thirty years living through the first one and there is absolutely no reason for this.”
Asked if he thinks that Trump is going to be successful in doing that, he said “I don’t know what Trump is doing. I don’t think he knows what he is doing – but one thing [he should not be doing] is trying to provoke conflicts at a time that we should be building the United Nation and the international community to solve its problems without killing people. This is ridiculous. Anybody who talks about space wars and that kind of stuff are really beyond logic.”
Asked why he did not attend Bush’s funeral, he said “I have a full teaching schedule, sixty students that I have to teach. It is not that I didn’t want to pay my respects, but those students are very important to me and they are my priority”.
When we asked him what he would do differently in response to the infamous Horton attack ad if he could go back to 1988, he said “As you and I talked about it before, I had made the decision that I was not going to respond or attack on anything, but I think the lesson from 1988 – and by the way, also from John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, is that when the other guy is going to attack you can’t just sit there saying nothing. You have to have a plan for dealing with those attacks when they come. I did that quite successfully when Ed King was attacking me in 1982 and beat him very decisively.”
Dukakis further explained his motivations in 1988. “There was an enormous amount of polarization during the Reagan years. These days people have the tendency to forget that and I think the country was fed up with that stuff.” He noted, however, that “Reagan and Bush had the most liberal furlough program in America. They were granting furloughs up to 45 days – ours was only 72 hours. Reagan himself, when he was governor in California, had a furlough program that he defended, and I never talked about that.”
Dukakis added, “I was very close with Mario Cuomo and when I first announced for the Presidency I talked to him, and he said don’t pay any attention to the negative stuff that you will hear, just keep it positive. About four days before the election, he and I were campaigning in Queens in New York and he turned and said to me “it was the worst advice I ever gave you.”
Speaking about the support and the response of the Greek-American Community Dukakis said, “it was fantastic. I was overwhelmed. I remember going to Iowa and in one of the towns there had only one pizza place and it was run by Greek immigrants, the only Greeks in town and they were so supportive of me. Actually, that pizza place became our local headquarters. They were very proud of my campaign; they were just magnificent.”
We asked him about what he foresees for 2020, and he said, “I think the midterms went well – better than I expected. By the way, we have lessons to learn from the midterms. One of them is we have to get rid of this red and blue stuff. It is clear that Democrats can win everywhere. Kansas got a very fine new democratic woman governor and a member of Congress. We won seats in Texas, in South Carolina, in Oklahoma. We look at the country and we say half of it is hopeless, on the contrary…good democrats with a good message can win those states and those districts. We must run a fifty state campaign. As soon as the holidays are over we have to get going on 2020.”
Dukakis, along with other prominent political leaders are calling for the elimination of Electoral College. When we asked him how close are they to achieving that, he said “It is hard to say. You know, the organization Common Cause in running this campaign to get rid of the Electoral College through the necessity of constitutional amendment. We are sixty percent there and are winning the support of a sufficient number of state legislators to get rid of it and I am optimistic, but we have to keep working on it.”
Speaking about President Trump he said “one positive thing he has done is turning young people to politics and public Service. And it is great to teach and encourage them.”