Governor Michael Dukakis
Presidential Candidate, 1988
An interview with Governor Michael Dukakis---- Feb 15, 2012
First, before I publish the interview that we had with Governor Dukakis, let me describe the experience itself. I called Governor Dukakis, hoping to gain a perspective of 1988 that would add to our primary source record for this project. What I came away with, and what the students have told me they came away with, was a truly personal experience presented by someone who was actually there. “It was in our history book Mr Curtis, but it was just facts. Then we spoke to the man the book talked about and it became real”, one of my students said in class today.I want to say how wonderful it was that the Governor asked if he could call and talk to us. I had hoped at least for a written interview, and thought our chances were slim for getting just that. Most people in the public eye don’t even return our calls or emails. The students took note of this.
Governor Dukakis spoke to our class via speaker phone for a little over an hour(which was 6 am in California by the way) about his life, his family, his political career, and the passion he has for public service. He was extremely forthcoming about the election of 1988. It was very refreshing to hear a politician (besides those who related to me who are always available for an open chat and very helpful) who spoke so candidly and freely about his thoughts, rather than speaking in platitudes and canned speeches. I am sure he has answered questions about the negative ads, the death penalty stance, the loss, and the Willie Horton ads thousands of times in the last 24 years. However, he spoke about all of these issues as if it was yesterday. He talked about the importance of making time for family on the campaign trail and encouraged the students to remember the good things about America, even in a time when most of us have become jaded and cynical about government.
The students asked him great questions about the role of social media, 24 hour news cycles, and what would he have done had he been elected. We even had a conversation about the current election (2012) and the famous Saturday Night Live skit where Jon Lovitz portrays Dukakis in a debate against a struggling George HW Bush (Dana Carvey). It was a really special moment to see the students so energized by a guest. In fact, it inspired several of our students to kick start our old Model UN club. The quotes and conversations with Governor Dukakis from our hour with him will remain unwritten for this interview as I do not want our guest to be misquoted or maligned by an off -the-cuff, candid conversation with students. Instead, I will commit to our resource archive the 11 questions I asked the Governor in our written interview so that I may directly quote him. Please keep in mind that the thoughts and ideas expressed in this interview are those of Governor Michael Dukakis and not necessarily those of the 1988 film project. Our blog serves as a neutral record of 1988 culture.
Film Project: I am talking with Governor Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor, Democratic nominee for President in 1988, and now Professor of Public Policy. Governor it is an honor speaking with you today.
I must first tell you that when I mentioned to my friends that you would be speaking with me, they launched back with many questions and many requests to say hello to you. So, I must first say hello from my friend Jennifer who tells me that she first heard you in 1988 on the radio in a speech you made while she was on a car trip when she was 10. She says you changed her life that day, made her want to be in politics, and put her on the track towards her current political leanings.
Governor Michael Dukakis: Tell Jennifer and people like her that I owe them an apology. If I had beaten Bush One, we would never have heard of Bush Two, and we wouldn’t be in this mess.
FP: What do remember most about 1988?
MD: I think the acceptance speech at Atlanta was one of the real high points. Regrettably, we peaked in Atlanta!
FP: Besides the obvious, if you could go back and live 1988 all over again what would you change?
MD: I spoke about this at length during our session with the students. The great lesson from 1988 is that if the other guy is going to go into an attack mode, you have to be ready for it with a carefully thought out strategy for not only blunting it but turning it into a character issue on the guy that is doing the attacking. I made the decision not to respond, and it was a big mistake.
FP: We like to ask “what if” questions in class to understand cause and effect better. George Bush was elected in 1988. During those 4 years; we saw the end of the Cold War, the Collapse of the Soviet Union, a reexamination of foreign relation tactics, the fall out of the stock market crash and Savings and Loan Scandals, the rise of post cold war tensions in former satellite nations, the Persian Gulf War, free trade becoming reality, a bigger concentration on environmental and social justice issues ( ADA and civil rights legislation), the trial of Clarence Thomas, and a recession in which taxes were raised, which some argue led to the rise of President Clinton.
If you had been elected in 1988 ,would the 4 years (or the 8 years) that followed have been different?
MD: I would have done a lot of the same things that Bill Clinton did, particularly on the economic front, and one of the great tragedies of current American history is that Bush II ignored a lot of what Clinton had done and was urging for the future, including the retirement of the national debt in ten to twelve years. I would have focused particularly on health care reform and investing in first rate public transportation and a national rail passenger system.
FP: What are you currently working on? And, should we call you Governor or Professor?
MD: I have been teaching at Northeastern University for twenty years and during the winter quarter here at UCLA for the past seventeen. I thoroughly enjoy teaching, opening up doors to young people in public service, and, at the same time, continuing my active involvement in public affairs in a number of ways. This year, Kitty and I will be doing our best to help the President get reelected and Elizabeth Warren elected to the U.S. Senate.
FP: The election of 2012 is shaping up and already being called the dirtiest election in the modern era. Obviously, we are seeing the rise of another Massachusetts Governor into this “fray”. Our history book calls the election of 1988 the most personal on record for the variety of negative ads that were thrown at yourself and President Bush.
MD: I’m not sure this current campaign is any bloodier or “ dirtier” than others, and remember: we had very tough campaigns beginning back when the Republic was founded. The battles between Jefferson and Hamilton and their respective parties were very tough indeed. I think the difference now is that they are electronic and visual, and with the new media they are everywhere.
FP: Ok, we have spent along time over the last few days talking about many serious topics(with the exception of your great thoughts on the Jon Lovitz sketch), probably information that you have well covered in the last 24 years. Lets have fun and talk about 1988 culture.
It is 1988, you are driving around in the campaign bus…Governor and Mrs. Dukakis are most likely listening too…
A. George Michael’s “Faith”
B. Whitney Houston “I get so Emotional” (RIP Whitney)
C. Beach Boys “Kokomo”
D. Debbie Gibson “Foolish Beat”
E. Bobby McFerrin “Don’t Worry Be Happy”
F. Guns N Roses “Sweet Child of Mine”
G. None of the above, I preferred to listen to __________________________________
MD: I’m afraid Kitty and I are traditionalists when it comes to music. Her dad was a member of the first violin section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and associate conductor of the Boston Pops, and I played trumpet in my high school band, so we like classical music and what these days they are calling “ the oldies.”
FP: It is 1988, you take a break from campaigning to catch a movie. What are you most likely to watch?
a. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
b. Rain Man
f. Crocodile Dundee II
g. Naked Gun
i. Coming to America
j. None of the above, I preferred to watch______________________________________
MD: Rain Man
FP: It is 1988, you have downtime at the hotel. You were most likely to
a. Read a Tom Clancy book
b. Read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”
c. Read Stephen King’s “The Tommy Knockers”
d. Read Thomas Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities”
e. None of the above, I was reading ______________________________________________
MD: I was reading a biography of Benjamin Mays, the president of Morehouse University. It was given to me my Andy Young, the mayor of Atlanta, because Mays and my dad were classmates at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 1919.
FP: It is 1988, you manage to catch some TV on the trail…would it most likely be?
d. The Wonder Years
e. None of the above I was watching ______________________________________________
MD: Not much time for TV watching when you are running for the Presidency. Two or three newspapers, a memo or two, and sleep.
FP: Thank you. Sorry, one last serious question that came to me because I know that you are strongly against the death penalty (which became a famous moment in the campaign, and something you talked to us about in class). Your state of Massachusetts has, in its history, one of the most famous death penalty cases in American History…the trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. (For those who are unfamiliar with the case, here are some good links.)
Background of the case
Sacco and Vanzetti’s court statements before the sentencing of execution
As a Governor who is strongly opposed to the Death Penalty, why did you not pardon Sacco and Vanzetti posthumously to make a statement?
MD: I couldn’t pardon Sacco and Vanzetti posthumously, but I issued a gubernatorial proclamation on the fiftieth anniversary of their execution stating that a terrible injustice had been done and that the stain on their lives and reputations should be “ forever removed” from them. Based on what we know, Vanzetti was almost certainly innocent and Sacco probably so.
FP: Thank you for your time Governor. We cannot tell you how much we appreciate this.
MD: It was a pleasure to spend some time with you and your students, and I hope I inspired at least some of them to think seriously about public service as a career.