Former Governor Michael Dukakis reflected on personal experiences to illustrate how the political landscape has changed since he has been involved in politics in front of a crowd of approximately 50 students Wednesday night.
Dukakis thinks this presidential election is “a little crazy,” that Donald Trump’s economic plan would create the worst recession since the Great Depression and that Hillary Clinton has always been “very progressive.”
The governor should know a thing or two about presidential elections. Dukakis was the Democratic nominee for president in 1988, but lost to incumbent Vice President George H. W. Bush. Dukakis won 111 electoral votes, while 426 went to his opponent, according to the website 270towin.
Dukakis started his political career when he was elected as a Town Meeting Member in Brookline, MA. In 1960, he was elected chairman of the Brookline Democratic organization. Before running for president, Dukakis served four consecutive terms in the Massachusetts legislature and held three non-consecutive governorships. Though Dukakis does not hold office now, he is still politically engaged.
He does not understand Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. “When was that?” he asked as he reflected on the discrimination present in America when he became interested in politics.
Dukakis saw a less progressive, more segregated environment in his own backyard. “Boston was racist. It was anti-Semitic. Irish kids were beating up Jewish kids on Blue Hill Avenue in the middle of the Holocaust, and people of color could not live on this side of the railroad tracks.”
He pointed to high school dropout rates, infant mortality rates and world events like the Vietnam War. Dukakis also spoke about the rise of McCarthyism, an anti-Communist movement in the 1950s that allowed a House committee to seek out and prosecute Communist sympathizers.
The problems he saw around him motivated Dukakis to get involved in politics. Reflecting on the current political landscape, Dukakis said, “This is an infinitely better country and … an infinitely better world today.”
One of Dukakis’ major accomplishments in politics was his campaign to fix Boston’s mass transit issues in the early ’80s. Dukakis said that in order to fix traffic congestion, a highway system was proposed. On a trip to Los Angeles, Dukakis witnessed their highway system and immediately knew that it was not going to solve Boston’s issues.
He was the first to stand up and demand that the highway bill be killed. Dukakis then backed programs that made major improvements to Boston’s subways, according to a 1983 New York Times article,
In regards to campaigning, he stressed the importance of going door to door to speak to voters, a strategy known as grassroots campaigning. It mobilized people at the local level to support a candidate. He had teams of precinct and block captains, someone to knock on every door, “making personal contact on an ongoing basis with every single voting household.”
Dukakis said that a lack of grassroots organizing contributed to his loss in 1988. “If we win this thing, it will be because Hillary’s got a much better grassroots organization,” Dukakis said. He thinks there are states that Clinton could win if she engaged voters more on the ground.
In particular, he thinks the Democratic Party needs to do a better job connecting with blue-collar voters. The party is ignoring issues that matter to them, he said, causing voters that should be automatic Democrats to vote Republican.
Trump’s economic policy, which would “cut taxes for the rich and deregulate the financial industry,” would lead to financial crisis, Dukakis said, yet the Democratic Party still cannot hold on to these voters.
As for Clinton, Dukakis thinks she is a progressive candidate, and finds the claims that she is “middle of the road” or not a real liberal to be incorrect. She was a “very progressive” and an “effective” U.S. Senator from New York, he argued.
A vote for a third-party candidate, a “protest vote,” is a vote for Trump, according to Dukakis. When asked how to respond to a friend who says they cannot trust Clinton and are voting third party knowing their candidate will lose, Dukakis said, “Ask them how they’re going to feel the day after the election,” when Trump has won.
His main concern with Clinton, and American politics in general, is the foreign policy situation in Syria and the Middle East. With regard to the conflict in Syria, Dukakis said we should have resolved this before it became a crisis, mentioning a United Nations conference in 2012.
He used the Greek phrase, “pathima mathima,” which means we must learn from our mistakes. Still, he thinks the world is on a path of stop resolving conflicts through war.
Dukakis made the audience laugh several times throughout the night. He set the record straight that his first election was not the Town Meeting, but a successful race for president of his third grade class.
When he was governor, Dukakis called his third grade teacher and asked, “Would you like to bring your class down to meet the guy that you got started in politics?”
He also offered an apology to the crowd for his failed presidential bid. “If I’d beaten Bush I, we never would’ve had Bush II,” he said. Dukakis thinks Bush Sr. was a strong president in regard to foreign policy but weak domestically. However, he said it was “too bad his kid didn’t read his memoir,” because Dukakis thinks that Sr. would have strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq.
Alex Faye ’15, a former president of the Brandeis Democrats (which hosted the event) moderated the discussion with the governor.