Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Michael Dukakis Emerges From Political Exile in Denver

Former Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis disappeared from the top echelons of the party establishment after his devastating loss to George H.W. Bush in 1988. I recall in 2004, during the Democratic Convention in Boston, where Senator John Kerry was being nominated, commentators still spoke of Dukakis as a disgraced loser who would not be on hand to address the delegates.

So it's interesting to see Dukakis reemerging from obscurity to attend this year's festivities in Denver. Katie Couric, in the video below, interviews Dukakis outside the Pepsi Center arena. The former Massachusetts Governor is apologetic for his loss in 1988, lamenting that he didn't combat the GOP attack-machine effectively. He says this year Obama's got to "fight fire with fire":

See also the background story on Dukakis' return at Scripps News Service, "Even Now, Dukakis Blames Himself for 1988 Blowout":

Twenty years have passed, but Michael Dukakis still kicks himself -- again and again and again.

Seven times in an hour-long chat, he brings up "mistakes" from that 1988 presidential election.

Twice, he flat-out admits that he "screwed it up." He wonders aloud whether he might have been naive. And, lest anybody still wonders who was to blame for his loss to Republican George H.W. Bush, Dukakis keeps repeating that the strategic decisions were "my fault, nobody else's."

Things just didn't work out the way the former Massachusetts governor had hoped. And this after what Dukakis considered a "great," "terrific," "unified," "positive" Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.

Turns out, a great political get-together just isn't enough, particularly if the presidential nominee forgets the most important part of a convention: The morning after.

After the last balloons drop, a presidential nominee has to start the campaign all over again. He has to be ready to fight back against attacks. And, Dukakis says from experience, those attacks are coming.

"What I would change obviously, and what you have to be aware of, is the final campaign is very different from the primary," Dukakis says, sitting in front of a vintage map of Denver at his daughter's stately home in the city's Country Club neighborhood. "You think you've addressed every issue under the sun. You try to do so in your acceptance speech. But it's a whole new ballgame, and you've got to begin, post-convention, as if the campaign has just begun."

After his upbeat convention in 1988, "I just kind of assumed, 'Look, it's just a continuation of what I've been doing: a very positive approach that so far seems to have done what I hoped it would," Dukakis says. "And anyway, that's the kind of guy I am, so we'll just kind of continue . . .' "

But it was a famous miscalculation. Dukakis wanted to stay positive. So he was slow to respond to some brutal attacks on his record, his positions and even his wife's reputation.

By the time he fought back, it was too late.

That's a painful lesson Democrats should never forget, Dukakis says. And it's clear that a sometimes "feisty" Sen. Barack Obama already has taken it to heart, he adds.

In Dukakis' view, any and all attacks have to be countered, swiftly and forcefully, he says. Or else, suffer his fate, a party's standard-bearer who ended up as one of those self-deprecating woulda, coulda, shoulda guys.
I think Dukakis is right to argue the best defense is a good offense, but in my mind his deadened, liberal technocratic ideology is what did him in, seen most infamously at the 1988 presidential debate where he told moderator Bernard Shaw that would not support the death penalty in response to the rape and murder of his wife, Kitty:

Dukakis can help the Democrats this year by reminding them that their soft-on-criminals eschatology had as much to do with their party's defeat 20 years ago as the GOP's well-justified attack strategy.