Michael Stanley Dukakis (born November 3, 1933) served as the 41st President of the United States from 1989-1993. Prior to being elected to the presidency, he was the 65th and 67th Governor of Massachusetts. He was born to Greek immigrants of partly Vlach origin in Brookline, Massachusetts, the same town as former President John F. Kennedy, and was the longest serving Governor in Massachusetts' history. He was the first Greek-American to serve as president and the second Greek-American governor in US electoral history after former Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Dukakis' father Panos (1896–1979) was a Greek immigrant from Asia Minor who settled in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1912 and graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1924, subsequently working as an obstetrician. His mother Euterpe (née Boukis) (1903–2003) was a Greek immigrant from Larissa; she and her family emigrated to Haverhill, Massachusetts, in 1913. She was a graduate of Bates College.
Dukakis attended Brookline High School in Lowell. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1955, served in the US Army 1955-57, was stationed in Korea, and then received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1960. Dukakis is also an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.
First Governorship (1975-1979)
After winning four terms to the Massachusetts House of Representatives between 1962-70, Dukakis was elected Governor in 1974, defeating the sitting Republican Francis Sargent during a period of fiscal crisis. Dukakis won in part by promising to be a "reformer" and pledging not to increase the state's sales tax to balance the state budget. He broke that pledge soon after taking office. He also had pledged to dismantle the powerful Metropolitan District Commission, a bureaucratic enclave that served as home to hundreds of political patronage employees. The MDC managed (some would say mismanaged) Massachusetts' parks, reservoirs, and waterways, as well as the highways and roads abutting those waterways. In addition to its own police force, the MDC even had its own navy as well, and an enormous budget from the state; for which it provided the most minimal accounting. The Dukakis pledge to dismantle MDC failed in the legislature where MDC had many powerful supporters and ultimately came back to haunt Dukakis when the MDC withheld its critical backing in the 1978 gubernatorial primary (see below).
Governor Dukakis was an amiable host to President Gerald Ford and Queen Elizabeth II during their visits to Boston in 1976 to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the establishment of the United States. He gained some notoriety as the only person in the state government who went to work during the Great Blizzard of 1978. During the storm, he went into local TV studios in a sweater to announce emergency bulletins. Dukakis is also remembered for his 1977 exoneration of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists whose trial sparked protests around the world, and who were electrocuted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts fifty years earlier in 1927.
During his first term in office, Dukakis commuted the sentences of 21 first-degree murderers and those of 23 second-degree murderers. Due to controversy engendered by some of these individuals having re-offended, Dukakis curtailed the practice later, issuing no commutations in his last three years as governor.
However, this performance did not prove enough to offset a backlash against the state's high sales and property tax rates, which turned out to be the predominant issue in the 1978 gubernatorial campaign. Dukakis, despite being the incumbent Democratic governor, was refused renomination by his own party. The state Democratic Party machine supported Edward J. King in the primary partly because King rode the wave against high property taxes (along with the passing of a binding petition on the state ballot that limited property tax rates to 2.5% of the property valuation – known as Proposition 2-and-a-half), but more significantly because State Democratic Party leaders lost confidence in Dukakis' ability to govern effectively. King also enjoyed the support of the power brokers at the MDC, who were unhappy with Dukakis' attempts to disempower and dismantle the powerful bureaucracy. King also had support from state police and public employee unions. Dukakis suffered a scathing defeat in the primary. It was "a public death", according to his wife Kitty.
Second Governorship (1983-88)
Yet, four years later, having made peace with the state Democratic Party machine power brokers, MDC, the state police and public employee unions, Dukakis defeated King in a 're-match' in the 1982 Democratic primary. He went on to defeat his Republican opponent John Winthrop Sears, who was MDC Commissioner under Sargent, in the November election. Future Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry was elected lieutenant governor on the same ballot with Dukakis, and served in the Dukakis administration from 1983-85.
Dukakis served as governor again from 1983-88 (winning re-election in 1986 with more than 60% of the vote) during which time he presided over a high-tech boom and a period of prosperity in Massachusetts and simultaneously getting the reputation for being a 'technocrat.' The National Governors Association voted Dukakis the most effective governor in 1986. Residents of the city of Boston and its surrounding areas remember him for the improvements he made to Boston's mass transit system, especially major renovations to the city's trains and buses. He was known as the only governor who rode the subway to work every day.
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.
Soon after his victory in the 1988 Presidential election over Republican Vice President George H. W. Bush, Dukakis officially resigned as Governor of Massachusetts on December 9, 1988.
1988 Presidential Election
Using the phenomenon termed the "Massachusetts Miracle" to promote his campaign, Dukakis sought the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States at the 1988 election, prevailing over a primary field which included Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, Gary Hart, and Al Gore, among others. Dukakis' success at the primary level has been largely attributed to John Sasso, his campaign manager. Sasso, however, was among two aides dismissed (Paul Tully was the other one) when a video showing plagiarism by rival candidate Joe Biden (D-Delaware) was made public and an embarrassed Biden was forced to withdraw from the race. This situation got uglier when Tully implied that it was Dick Gephardt's campaign (as opposed to Dukakis' campaign) that actually passed along the damaging information on Biden.
Despite the claims that Dukakis always "turned the other cheek", he did run a particularly effective commercial against rival Dick Gephardt that featured a tumbler doing somersaults while the announcer said, "Dick Gephardt has been flip-flopping over the issues." Dukakis finished third in the Iowa caucuses and then became the first candidate to ever win a contested New Hampshire primary by more than ten points, with Gephardt finishing second. Dukakis finished first in Minnesota and second in South Dakota before winning five states on March 8, 1988, the "Super Tuesday" primaries. As his competition continued to fade, Dukakis wound up with a seven-week stretch of one-on-one elections between himself and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Dukakis lost the Michigan caucus to Jackson but then prevailed by margins of two to one in Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, and New Jersey, clinching the nomination on June 7, 1988.
Touching on his immigrant roots, Dukakis used Neil Diamond's ode to immigrants, "America", as the theme song for his campaign. Famed composer John Williams wrote "Fanfare for Michael Dukakis" in 1988 at the request of Dukakis' father-in-law, Harry Ellis Dickson. The piece was premiered under the baton of Dickson (then the Associated Conductor of the Boston Pops) at that year's Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. During the general election campaign, Vice President George H. W. Bush, the Republican nominee, criticized Dukakis for his traditionally liberal positions on many issues. These included Dukakis' statement during the primary season that he was "a card-carrying member of" the American Civil Liberties Union, his veto of legislation requiring public school teachers to lead pupils in the Pledge of Allegiance, and his opposition to the resumption of capital punishment in the United States.
Dukakis had trouble with the personality that he projected to the voting public. His reserved and stoic nature was easily interpreted to be a lack of passion (which went against the ethnic stereotype of his Greek-American heritage). Dukakis was often referred to as "Zorba the Clerk." Nevertheless, Dukakis is considered to have done well in the first presidential debate with George Bush. In the second debate, Dukakis had been suffering from the flu and spent quite a bit of the day in bed. His performance was poor and played to his reputation as being cold.
During the campaign, Dukakis' mental health became an issue when he refused to release his full medical history and there were, according to The New York Times, "persistent suggestions" that he had undergone psychiatric treatment in the past. The issue even caused then-President Ronald Reagan, when asked whether the Democratic Presidential nominee should make his medical records public, to quip with a grin: "Look, I'm not going to pick on an invalid." 22 minutes later, Reagan stated that he "attempted to make a joke in response to a question" and that "I think I was kidding, but I don't think I should have said what I said." Reagan continued, "I do believe that the medical history of a President is something that people have a right to know, and I speak from personal experience." Dr. Gerald R. Plotkin, Dukakis' physician since 1970, stated that "[Dukakis] has had no psychological symptoms, complaints or treatment."
Early in his term, Dukakis faced the problem of what to do with leftover deficits spawned by the Reagan years. At $220 billion in 1990, the deficit had grown to three times its size since 1980. Dukakis was dedicated to curbing the deficit, believing that America could not continue to be a leader in the world without doing so. He began an effort to persuade the Congress to act on the budget; with Republicans believing that the best way was to cut government spending, and Democrats convinced that the only way would be to raise taxes, Dukakis faced problems when it came to consensus building.
In the wake of a struggle with Congress, Dukakis was forced by the Democratic majority to raise tax revenues; as a result, many Republicans felt betrayed because Dukakis had promised "A better fiscal policy" in his 1988 campaign. Perceiving a means of revenge, Republican congressmen defeated Dukakis's proposal which would enact spending cuts and tax increases that would reduce the deficit by $500 billion over five years. Scrambling, Dukakis accepted the Republicans' demands for lower taxes and less spending, which alienated him from Democrats and gave way to a sharp decrease in popularity. Dukakis would later say that he wished he had never signed the bill. Near the end of the 101st Congress, the president and congressional members reached a compromise on a budget package that increased the marginal tax rate and phased out exemptions for high-income taxpayers. Despite demands for a reduction in the capital gains tax, Dukakis relented on this issue as well. This divisive issue with congress proved not to be the first however.
Coming at around the same time as the budget deal, America entered into a mild recession, lasting for six months. Many government programs, such as welfare, increased. As the unemployment rate edged upward in 1991, Dukakis signed a bill providing additional benefits for unemployed workers. The year 1991 was marked by many corporate reorganizations; which laid off a substantial number of workers. Many now unemployed were Democrats and independents, who had believed that their jobs were secure. In the months of the recession Dukakis saw his approval drop to 49%.
By his second year in office, Dukakis was told by his economic advisers to stop dealing with the economy, as they believed that he had done everything necessary to ensure his re-election. By 1992, interest and inflation rates were the lowest in years, but by mid-year, the unemployment rate reached 7.8%, the highest figure since 1984. In September 1992, the Census Bureau reported that 14.2% of all Americans lived in poverty. At a press conference in 1990, Dukakis told reporters that he found fiscal policy less enjoyable and quite boring.
In May 1989, Panama held democratic elections, in which Guillermo Endara was elected president; the results were then annulled by Noriega's government. Dukakis failed to act and did not send 2000 more troops to the country which were needed to prevent instability. Instead, Dukakis allowed the elections in Nicaragua to be overturned saying: "further US action against Panama would end in a bogged down and high casualty combat operation".
On August 1, 1990, Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded its Southern oil-rich neighbor, Kuwait; Dukakis condemned the invasion and began rallying opposition to Iraq in US, European, Asian, and Middle Eastern allies. Secretary of Defense Wesley Clark traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Fahd; Fahd requested US military aid in the matter, fearing a possible invasion of his country as well. The request was met initially with little response. Iraq made attempts to negotiate with Dukakis through a deal that would allow the country to take control of half of Kuwait. Dukakis against almost every adviser and the will of the American people, accepted this proposal and insisted on a complete peace with Iraqi forces. In October 1991, Iraq annexed half of Kuwait and declared victory over its southern neighbor. As a result, Dukakis saw his approval drop to 41%.
1992 Reelection Campaign
Dukakis announced his re-election bid in early-1992; with a lack of action in the Persian Gulf War and low approval ratings, reelection initially looked like a struggle.
On the Republican side, Pat Buchanan challenged a returning George H. W. Bush and Kansas Senator Bob Dole for the nomination, and shocked political pundits by finishing second, with 37% of the vote, in the New Hampshire primary. Bush responded by adopting more conservative positions on issues, in an attempt to undermine Buchanan's base as well as fend off Dole. On the Democratic side, Dukakis was challenged for the Democratic nomination by Gary Hart who ran a campaign of immediate action, Jerry Brown who ran a campaign on improving the economy and raising taxes, and Bill Clinton, the popular Governor of Arkansas.Though facing stiff resistance and a long and bloody primary battle; Dukakis managed to get renominated. Once he had secured the nomination, Dukakis faced his former and returning Republican challenger, George H W Bush. Bush attacked Dukakis as not doing enough to cut taxes for the working middle-class, increasing the crime rate, and being "out of touch" with foreign policy. Bush originally had a ten-point lead, until Texas billionaire Ross Perot entered, tightening the race significantly. Nearing election day, polls suggested that the race was a dead-heat, but Bush pulled out on top, defeating Dukakis in a 48% to 41% popular vote margin. Perot won 11% of the popular vote, one of the highest totals for a third party candidate in US history, drawing equally from both major candidates, according to exit polls. Bush received 411 electoral votes to Dukakis' 127.
Several factors were key in Dukakis' defeat, including his agreement in 1990 to raise taxes. In doing so, Dukakis alienated many members of the liberal right-wing as well as independents, losing their support for his re-election. Of the voters who cited Dukakis' broken "No More Disasters Of Foreign Policy" pledge as "very important", two-thirds voted for Bush. Dukakis had also raised taxes in an attempt to address an increasing budget deficit, which has largely been attributed to the Reagan tax cuts and military spending of the 1980s. In addition to these factors, the ailing economy which arose from recession may have been the main factor in Dukakis' loss, as seven in ten voters said on election day that the economy was either "not so good" or "poor". On the eve of the 1992 presidentiali election against these factors, Dukakis' approval rating stood at just 34% after suffering low ratings throughout the year. Despite his defeat, Dukakis climbed back from election day approval levels to leave office in January 1993 with a 48% job approval rating.