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Michael Dukakis Poster

Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 3 November 1933Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Birth NameMichael Stanley Dukakis
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Michael Dukakis, three-term governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who served longer in that post than any other person in history, is best remembered in history as the 1988 Democratic candidate for President in an election in which Ronald Reagan's vice president, George Bush, effectively used "Swift Boat" tactics to undermine Dukakis' candidacy.

Born Michael Stanley Dukakis on November 3, 1933 to Greek-immigrant parents in Brookline, Massachusetts (the birthplace of both John F. Kennedy and his 1988 Presidential opponent Bush). Dukakis' father was a Harvard-educated physician and his mother was a Massachusetts schoolteacher. She worked to eliminate first her native Greek accent and then her New England accent to remove imperfections from her speech pattern that might hinder her teaching ability. In a time and place where non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicity was looked down upon (even that of the Irish Americans who emigrated to the U.S. with the ability to speak English and a knowledge of Anglo-Saxon politics) and even proved a hindrance to social mobility, the Dukakis family was committed to assimilation. Part of the bad rap against Dukakis that would cost him his first reelection campaign as governor and his bid for the White House was that he was too stiff and formal; yet, being brought up in an era and place in which overt displays of emotion were looked down upon upon by the ruling class of Boston Brahmins as too "ethnic" (as well as betraying lower-caste origins), one can understand Dukakis' coolness and reserve as being an attempt not to be stereotyped by his social "betters". (His contemporary, three-term New York governor Mario Cuomo, said that when he entered law practice in the early 1950s, he was told to ditch his Italian name and rename himself something along the lines of "Mike COnnors". He, of course, refused, though that type of ethnic cleansing was considered normal among upwardly mobile and socially ambitious "urban ethnics" of the time.)

The class system in Boston was so strict before being shattered by John F. Kennedy's presidency that JFJ's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, felt the need to relocate his family to New York City in the 1930s so that they would no grow up amidst anti-Irish prejudice. Despite the fact that he was one of the richest men in the country and his wife was the daughter of a Boston mayor, an Irish Catholic was beyond the pale, socially, to the Boston Brahmins, the brethren of the Cabot and Lodge families that dominated the self-proclaimed "Hub" of the universe. (A local ditty went about Boston hailed the Hub as "...the land of the bean and the cod,/Where the Lodges speak only to the Cabots,/And the Cabots speak only to God.)

After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1955, Dukakis served as an enlisted intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army. After completing his military service, he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1960. After serving in the General Court (Massachusetts legislature), Dukakis was elected governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1974, defeating the incumbent Republican Francis W. Sargent. The commonwealth was undergoing a fiscal crisis and the Republican Party was very unpopular in the commonwealth, the only state that had been won in the electoral college by 1972 Presidential candidate George McGovern two years before. Dukakis' victory was the result, partially, of his taking a pledge not to increase the state's sales tax to balance the state budget, but he reneged on the promise soon after taking office. During the great Blizzard of 1978, which shut down Boston and a good deal of the Commonwealth, "The Duke" went into local TV studios in a sweater to announce emergency bulletins. The coldness of his public persona in the midst of the crisis was likened to that of the weather itself, and hurt his popularity. Combined with a nation-wide and local backlash against the high property tax rates, and his reneging on his promise to not raise the sales tax, he lost to Edward J. King in the Democratic primary, as King capitalized on the issue of taxes. Following California's lead, the voters of the Commonwealth voted for Proposition 2 and 1/2 that limited property tax rates to 2 1/2% of the property valuation.

Dukakis defeated King in in the Democratic primary in 1982, and easily defeated his Republican opponent to be reelected governor. (Fellow future Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry was elected Lieutenant Governor on the same ballot with Dukakis, serving in the Dukakis administration from 1983 to 1985, when he was took Paul Tsongas's Senate seat.) The second term and the first years of Dukakis' third term as governor were very successful (he won re-election in 1986 with over 60% of the vote), during which time he presided over a booming economy fueled by the high-technology industry, second at the time only to that of California. A reform-minded technocrat, Dukakis was given credit for the "Massachusetts Miracle" (part of the credit of which should be attributed to Masssachusetts Congressman Tip O'Neil, who had taken over JFK's old congressional district, who as the powerful Democratic Speaker of the House helped direct billions in defense spending to the Commonwealth).

The National Governors Association voted Dukakis the most effective governor in 1986, positioning Dukakis for a bid for the presidency. Basing his candidacy as the architect of the "Massachusetts Miracle", Dukakis overcame the other contenders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination (a group dubbed the "Seven Dwarfs" by the media for their collective lack of stature or prominence on the national stage; Dukakis' own personal lack of stature). The success of the Dukakis' campaign was largely attributed to campaign manager John Sasso, who had originally worked for rival candidate Joseph Biden. (Having also managed the campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, Sasso is now 0-3 in presidential election contests.)

Dukakis came out of the Democratic convention with an overwhelming lead over Ronald Reagan's heir-apparent, Vice President George Bush, the Republican nominee, but would not or could not handle the dirty campaign tactics that were the stock-in-trade of all the Vice President's men, including Lee Atwater. While the Dukakis camp expected an attack on their candidate as a traditional liberal, they did not seem to be able to cope with the McCarthyite vitriol from the Bush camp, which sought to make the "L" word the equivalent of what communism had been in the early 1950s. Harking back to McCarthy, Bush had accused Dukakis during one of their televised debates as being a "card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union," replacing "communist" with the ACLU (a variation of the "L"-word) and recycling an old charge from the '50s against liberals and "fellow travelers".

Unlike future Democratic Presidential candidate Bill Clinton (who had delivered the key-note address at the 19988 Democratic convention), who

  • when confronted with Bush's dirty tactics, such as pillorying his


wife Hillary, shot back that "I'm not running for First Lady", thus touching on Bush's Achilles heel, the "Wimp Factor" -- Dukakis would not fight back. He either was constitutionally unable to fight back, or thought it beneath his dignity to answer the smears and accusations. Issues the Bush campaign chose to highlight were his veto of legislation requiring public school teachers to lead pupils in the Pledge of Allegiance and his opposition to capital punishment.

As it had during the Big Blizzard, The Duke's stoical personality as projected to the voting public was interpreted as a lack of passion (which ran against the traditional stereotype of the Greek-American being fiery if not hot headed, an image that Dukakis, like his mother earlier, chose to expunge from his being). His opponents, touching on his reputation as a technocrat and superb administrator, referred to him as "Zorba the Clerk." Nevertheless, Dukakis widely was perceived to have performed well in the first presidential debate with Bush, and his candidacy was buoyed by his running mate, Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who was not afraid to take off the gloves. However, in the second debate, the runner stumbled; Dukakis had been suffering from the flu. Still, his performance was poor and played to his reputation as being cold, particularly his response to moderator Bernard Shaw's question, "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis [his wife] were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"

Projecting himself as a man of reason, Dukakis replied with no visible emotion, "No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life," and then explained his stance. Many observers felt Dukakis' answer lacked the normal emotions one would expect of a person discussing a loved one's rape and death. Many - including the candidate himself - believe that this, in part, cost Dukakis the election, as his poll numbers dropped from 49% to 42% nationally overnight. Other commentators thought the question itself was unfair, in that it injected an irrelevant emotional element into the discussion of a policy issue.

Arguably the greatest issue of the campaign was that of race and crime, as articulated by the Bush camp in the prison furlough program issue. Framed by Lee Atwater, the Bush camp ran ads that criticized Dukakis for a prison furlough program that resulted in the release of convicted murderer Willie Horton, an African American, who committed a rape and assault in Maryland after fleeing Massachusetts. While it was Al Gore during the Democratic primaries that was the first candidate to publicly raise the furlough issue and highlight the fact that a furloughed prisoner had broken into a house, raped a woman and beaten her husband, Gore never mentioned Horton by name or highlighted the fact that he black, as the TV ads did merely by running his picture.

Despite the fact that the furlough program was started before Dukakis' gubernatorial administration and that the federal government under Ronald Reagan had a similar program that had resulted in similar outcomes, candidate Bush decided to play the race and crime card to boost his candidacy. Bush mentioned Horton by name in a speech in June 1988 and an "independent" political action committee (PAC) legally not affiliated with the Bush campaign, the National Security Political Action Committee, aired an ad entitled "Weekend Passes" which used a mug shot image of the African American Horton. The Bush campaign refused to repudiate it, and indeed, followed it up with its own, official campaign ad, "Revolving Door," criticizing Dukakis over the furlough program without mentioning Horton.

The first Bush to be president also hammered on the patriotism theme (and unlike his son, an errant National Guard pilot during the Vietnam War, George H.W. Bush was an authentic war hero, serving honorably during the Second World War) to undermine Dukakis by portraying him as soft on defense, in regards to the controversial "Star Wars" Space Defense Initiative program, which Dukakis promised to scale down. The response to this provocation lead to a public relations disaster when the Dukakis campaign engineered a photo-op at the General Dynamics plant in Michigan in September 1988, in which The Duke was photographed driving an M1 Abrams tank. Filmed wearing a safety helmet that seemed too large for his head, Dukakis looked awkward, out of place, and decidedly uncomfortable in such a military setting. Footage of Dukakis was used by the Bush campaign as evidence he would not make a good commander-in-chief, and "Dukakis in the tank" is still shorthand among political operatives for disastrous public relations outings.

The campaign arguably was the dirtiest since the 19th century until Bush's son ran for reelection against John Kerry in 2004. Dukakis lost the 1988 election and retired from active politics after his gubernatorial term expired in 1991. The "Massachusetts Miracle" expired during the lead up to the recession that gripped America in the Bush administration, and The Duke's popularity withered as he was forced to significantly raise taxes. He did not run for a fourth term in 1990; controversial Boston University President John Silber, a social reactionary who was dubbed by Ronald Reagan his "Favorite Demcorat" won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and narrowly lost the general election to William Weld, ushering in nearly two decades of Republican governors in the heavily Democratic Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

After the end of his term, he served on the board of directors for Amtrak. Splitting his time between Boston and Los Angeles, California, he became a professor of political science at Boston's Northeastern University and a visiting professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dukakis has recently developed a strong passion for grassroots campaigning and the appointment of precinct captains to coordinate local campaigning activities, two strategies he feels are essential for the Democratic Party to compete effectively in both local and national elections. His policies have become gospel to Howard Dean, the head of the Democratic Central Committee. He also has taken a strong role in advocating for effective public transportation and high speed rail as a solution to automobile congestion and the lack of space at airports.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (1)

Kitty Dukakis (20 June 1963 - present) (3 children)

Trivia (15)

First cousin of Olympia Dukakis.
Presidential candidate 1988.
Governor of Massachusetts 1974-1978, 1982-1990.
Now a University lecturer.
Portrayed by Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live.
During his governorship, a convicted murderer named Willie Horton left a Massachusetts prison for a furlough and brutally attacked a Maryland couple. Although the Massachusetts prison furlough program was soon abolished, the furlough issue was used against him in the 1988 presidential race when George Bush accused him of being soft on crime, and criticized his support for prison furloughs with television ads, one of which featured a mugshot of Horton. Dukakis did not counterattack until late in the race when his campaign tried to accuse Bush of hypocrisy with an ad that displayed a photo of Angel Medrano, who killed a pregnant woman during a furlough from a federal prison (which was part of a program that existed during the Reagan/Bush administration). Ultimately, the furlough ads and Dukakis' initial decision not to respond to them were believed to have contributed to his election defeat.
Oscar-winning composer John Williams, who was then principal conductor of the Boston Pops orchestra, wrote "Fanfare for Michael Dukakis" in 1988 at the request of Dukakis' father-in-law Harry Ellis Dickson, then the associate conductor of the Boston Pops. The piece was premiered under the baton of Dickson at that year's Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
He is an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.
Used Neil Diamond's immigrant song "America" as a theme song for his 1988 campaign.
His wife, Kitty Dukakis, was named after Kitty Carlisle, a friend of her father, conductor Harry Ellis Dickson
He made a cameo appearance in the medical drama St. Elsewhere (Season 3, Episode 15, "Bye, George," January 9, 1985). He limps to the hospital desk and says that he has suffered a jogging injury, but Dr. Fiscus (played by Howie Mandel) refuses to believe that he is the governor of Massachusetts.
Married to Katherine D. (Kitty) Dukakis. Their children are John, Andrea and Kara. The Dukakises continue to reside in his boyhood home in Brookline, Massachusetts, but live in Los Angeles, California during the winter while Dukakis teaches at UCLA.
"I'm voting for Dukakis" is the first line of dialog in the cult film Donnie Darko, and is often quoted by its fans. The phrase's use in the movie is a satirical take on Dukakis' unsuccessful campaign. (The movie takes place in 1988, but was filmed in 2001.)
Had he been elected, he would have been the second US President, after Andrew Jackson, to have had two immigrant parents.
He is the cousin of Academy Award-wining actress Olympia Dukakis. When Olympia picked up her Oscar on TV during the Democratic Presidential primary season in 1988, she spoke to her cousin Michael on-camera, telling him it was time for him to win his contest.

Personal Quotes (2)

I made a deliberate decision not to respond, and that was a colossal mistake. - on how the attack ads contributed to his loss in the 1988 presidential race
"I'm opposed to the death penalty. I think everybody knows that. I'm also very tough on crime.

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