Dukakis On Gridlock, Influence And His 1988 Campaign

By Jordan Weinstein

Nov. 30, 2011

michael dukakis

He knows how a campaign goes: Then-Gov. Michael Dukakis speaks at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. (Library of Congress)

BOSTON — Many are speculating on Barney Frank’s true motivations on leaving Congress. To put Frank's decision into perspective, WGBH News took a critical look at the changing political landscape on Nov. 29 with former Mass. Gov. and past presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

Excerpts from the conversation:
WGBH NEWS: Does the departure of so many senior Massachusetts congressmen and senators diminish the influence of the state’s D.C. delegation?
DUKAKIS: We happen to have a very effective and very skilled congressional delegation, and although we’ve lost some giants — no question Tip [O’Neill], Senator Kennedy, now Barney, had enormous influence, outsized influence — I don’t think we’re going to be diminished that much. I mean obviously other people have to come along and insert themselves but we’ve got one of the best delegations in Congress and they know what they’re doing, they do it well and we’re the beneficiaries of that. So I’m not worried about a waning of Massachusetts influence.
WGBH NEWS: What is underlying the severe gridlock these days that seems to prevent even the simplest compromises from being forged?
DUKAKIS: We now have folks who literally take a pledge that under no circumstances will they vote for anything to raise revenue. If you’re dealing with those kinds of folks, it’s very difficult to get anything done and that’s what the 2012 election is going to be all about. The people in the United States have got to decide what kind of a government they want and what kind of political leadership they want.
WGBH NEWS: Has the presence of corporate money in Washington loosened the public’s control of the political system?
DUKAKIS: I thought the Supreme Court decision on campaign finance was one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court ever made in the history of this country…. The notion that money is speech — I mean, I don’t know where that is found in the Constitution. As Senator McCain in his better days once said, if that’s the case then 99 percent of us are disenfranchised because we couldn’t possibly come up with the money to deal with these millions in corporate contributions.
WGBH NEWS: Looking back, what would you have done differently in your 1988 presidential campaign?
DUKAKIS: I made a big mistake in ’88 in taking the position I wasn’t going to respond to the Bush attack ads and it’s pretty obvious you can’t do that. I mean, you’ve got to be ready for them, you’ve got to have a strategy to deal with them — preferably one that, frankly, turns the attack ads into a character issue on the guy that’s doing it. And so I just badly messed that up. Bill Clinton never made that mistake. In fact he had a small unit in his campaign that they used to call the "Defense Department" which did nothing but deal with those attacks. And that’s frankly what you have to do.

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