Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis can never live down the fact he blew a 30-point lead in the 1988 presidential election against George H.W. Bush. Analysts concluded that the Democrats just weren't ready to govern again. It is easily forgotten that Bill Clinton in 1992 got a smaller percentage of the vote, 43%, than Dukakis did, 45%. Yet Clinton is widely perceived as a brilliant politician while Dukakis is seen as a dismal failure.
Dukakis attributed his loss to tactical errors -- a failure to respond quickly to Republican smears. In an extensive Boston Globe magazine article by Charles Pierce twenty years after his defeat, Dukakis suggested that in 1988 he could have talked much more in his campaign about the changes he saw in Russia with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachav. In 1988, Americans elected Bush 41 as the last of the Cold War presidents. Dukakis was perceived as too soft on the communists. Republicans charged that he was a, God-forbid, "multilateralist" -- which George H.W. Bush also revealed himself to be once he became president. In reality, Dukakis likes to think he was simply ahead of his time.
"I saw a story in 1987," Dukakis recalls, "and it had an account of what sounded like a speech that [Soviet premier Mikhail] Gorbachev had made, when in fact it was a paper he'd released, where he talked about expanding the authority of the UN, creating a permanent standing UN police force, and creating a kind of international EPA to deal with international environmental issues. I'd never seen anything like this coming out of a Soviet leader. I called Madeleine Albright, who was my foreign policy adviser at the time, and she faxed it to me, and I said, there's something different about this guy. That was about as far as it went at the time."
Not until the Soviets allowed the Berlin Wall to fall in November, 1989 did the world's perceptions change.
Ironically, if the Dukakis campaign hadn't sabatoged Senator Joe Biden's campaign -- accusing him of plagiarism, a charge his campaign didn't survive -- the two would have developed an alliance that gave Dukakis the foreign policy experience he needed since Biden had played a central role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Plagiarism was a charge Barack Obama's campaign easily surmounted in 2008, though it had clearly borrowed speech passages from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
And remaining supporters of Dukakis like to think he could have prevented the first Gulf War with diplomacy. If the United States had clearly warned Saddam Hussein before he invaded Kuwait that an international coalition would force him to remove his troops, that war, and the subsequent war in Iraq, would have been avoided. The war happened because the US gave Saddam the wrong signals diplomatically, according to this theory. He was not warned before entering Kuwait that the US would not allow his actions to stand.
- Michael Dukakis: Boston Globe magazine article by Charles Pierce twenty years after his 1988 defeat.