I recently returned from a trip covering three states including Massachusetts, where I had an enjoyable lunch with Mike and Kitty Dukakis. Mike was the Democratic candidate for president in 1988 who lost to the late President George Herbert Walker Bush.
Mike is a friend of my daughter, Beth who lives in Brookline, Mike’s hometown. 85-year old Mike is a very down-to-earth guy. He is in very good health, drives a modest Toyota and is about to make his annual shift from New England to Los Angeles, where each winter he is visiting professor at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at U.C.L.A. The rest of the year Mike is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University in Boston.
Dukakis was the three-term governor of Massachusetts when he ran against Bush. He had been voted the most effective governor in the U.S. by the National Governors Association in 1986. After he lost his presidential bid he continued to serve as Massachusetts governor through 1991.
We talked about the current political scene, and Mike’s race for the presidency, including reminisces about his running mate, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, of Texas. When Bentsen prepared to debate Senator Dan Quayle, on Oct. 5, 1988 in Omaha, Nebraska he learned that Quayle had been comparing himself to President John F. Kennedy in his stump speech.
In the debate Quayle said, “I have had more experience than many others that sought the office of Vice President of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.” Bentsen famously answered, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Quayle answered, “That was really uncalled for, Senator.” Bentsen replied, “You are the one who was making a comparison Senator – and I’m one who knew him well. And frankly, I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for our country that I did not think the comparison was well-taken.” Still, the Bush-Quayle ticket beat Dukakis-Bentsen by a margin of 8 percent of the popular vote, with the Democrats winning only 10 states.
Dukakis blames only himself for losing the election. He regrets not responding aggressively enough to Bush advertisements featuring a convicted African-American murderer named Willie Horton. Horton had raped a woman and stabbed her partner while out of prison on a Massachusetts furlough program.
This week, Mike Dukakis was asked by the Associated Press to discuss his political foe’s legacy. He believes history books will give George H.W. Bush high grades, particularly for his efforts to help end the Cold War.
Dukakis admits that over the years he and President Bush often disagreed strongly on domestic policies. He believes that Bush’s greatest contribution was in negotiating with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He also credited Bush for working successfully with allies and the United Nations during the first Gulf War. He considered Bush “a very wise and thoughtful man. “
Dukakis and Bush never became personal friends but did meet several times. Dukakis never raised the issue of the offensive Willie Horton ad with the late president. This week Dukakis praised Bush for being willing to work with Democrats. He also admired the close relationship that developed between Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George H.W. Bush over the past decades. They became warm friends after Clinton beat Bush in 1992, often working together for the common good.
George Herbert Walker Bush brought honor, dignity, bipartisanship and civility to the White House. His lifetime of public service was remarkable. It is somewhat ironic that such a man has just died, while at the same time the man holding the presidency is Bush’s opposite in every way possible.
Bush was a heroic Navy carrier pilot. Trump dodged the draft. Bush was happily married to Barbara for 73 years. Trump has been married three times. Bush was self-effacing and always a gentleman. Trump is not. When Bush was president, citizens and their children could proudly point to him with pride. Trump is an embarrassment every day of the year.
Bush was a man of his word. For George H.W. Bush to lie was inconceivable. Trump is our Liar-in-Chief. Bush was cautious in foreign relations. Trump is reckless, offending our allies while praising traditional enemies.
One remembers George H.W. Bush fondly. He loved America and served it well. He will be sorely missed.