“We didn’t do what, I’m sorry to say, you have to do in these campaigns. And that’s one of the great lessons of ’88, sadly. And that is you’ve got to anticipate the attack campaign. And you have to have a carefully thought-out strategy for dealing with it in advance of when it happens…I obviously made huge mistakes.” – The three-term Governor of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis admitted to the MSNBC’s Hardball producer, Rabbe, in the insightful documentary, titled Above the Fray: The Lesson of Dukakis’ 88.
Michael Dukakis was very popular and successful governor of Massachusetts, and is now the Chairman of Boston Global Forum, a think tank found with aims at identifying and proposing the practical solutions to the most impact issue of the world. The man who was widely seen as the personification of American Dream, as David Corn described in Mother Jones, has always come across as a thoughtful, intelligent, and decent fellow. He has devoted his life to teaching, which is very different from what other losing presidential candidates have done.
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The Dukakis Lesson: Never Ignore an Attack
January 8, 2015 by David Corn
A new documentary shows that 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis learned this too late.
(Photo credit: Burns Library, Boston College/ Flickr)
Listen, youngsters, there was once a time in American politics when a politician with a good shot of becoming president threw away his big chance because he believed he should—and could—remain above the fray. Yes, he really thought that. His name was Michael Dukakis. And today he is mostly known as a political loser.
Yet in his day, Dukakis was the popular and successful governor of Massachusetts, who, as the son of Greek immigrants, was widely seen as the personification of the American Dream. After winning the Democratic presidential primary of 1988—vanquishing such political warriors as Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, Joe Biden, and Paul Simon (the senator, not the singer)—Dukakis was for a time the front-runner in the race against a sitting vice president named George Herbert Walker Bush. In May of that year, Dukakis led the dynastic prince by 16 points in one poll. In August, he had a 17-point advantage. And the veep branded himself the “underdog” of the race.
But Dukakis made a big error. When the mud started flying, he acted as if he were at afternoon tea.
In a new NBC Learn documentary, aptly titled Above the Fray: The Lessons of Dukakis ’88, Will Rabbe, a producer for MSNBC’s Hardball, chronicles this supersized miscalculation. (Connection declared: I’m a regular guest on Hardball.) For many who lived through the excruciating final months of the campaign, as the Bush machine (operated by Lee Atwater, a consultant known for his down-and-dirty, street-brawling style of politics) pummeled Dukakis and he blandly responded with policy pronouncements, this film will bring back cringe-inducing bad memories.
At the start of the documentary, Dukakis, who has always come across as a thoughtful, intelligent, and decent fellow, says, “In retrospect, I’m not sure we had the kind of strategy we should have. But it was certainly an eminently winnable campaign at the time.” A viewer already familiar with this sad tale can’t help but mutter, “No shit.”
The film chronicles how negative attacks undid the Duke. At first, it was Gore. Trailing Dukakis in the Democratic primary contest, Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, claimed the governor was soft on crime, pointing to a Massachusetts state furlough program for criminals, under which two felons freed on weekend passes committed violent crimes. Dukakis didn’t pay the blast much mind. But Gore’s assault came too late in the game and did not help him overtake Dukakis.
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