Darren Richardson

June 13, 2012

NOTE: This report was inspired by the current writing assignment for The American Pundit, although it is not eligible for the competition since the author helps administer the contest. Please consider letting your imagination have some fun with this writing assignment, which runs through June 15: One election can change everything. Write about how America and the world would be different if any of the eight U.S. presidential elections since 1980 had gone the other way - Carter defeating Reagan, for example, or McCain winning against Obama. For additional "alternative history" examples, please visit The American Pundit page.

This report pays unapologetic homage to Michael Stanley Dukakis, American hero, commonly referred to as President Dukakis from 1989 to 1997.

I still get emotional thinking about Dukakis’ eight years in office, how he brought America back from the ugly consequences of Reaganism and trickle-down economics, how he defeated a sitting vice president in George H.W. Bush to win the presidency in 1988 and how he crushed the GOP’s self-appointed culture warrior and surprise presidential nominee Pat Buchanan in his 1992 re-election victory. In short, I get a little teary-eyed when I think how blessed our nation was to have Michael Dukakis at the helm for eight crucial years. He was a godsend in every sense of the term.

Legendary historian Salvador “Sleepy” McRemus states it succinctly in “Tank Commander: America in the Dukakis Years,” his 2006 Pulitizer Prize-winning biography of the 41st U.S. president: “(Dukakis was) both Lincolnesque in his vision for America and Jeffersonian in cultivating the inspiration that gave rise to that vision, knowing that a ‘united’ United States would be a requirement in successfully facing the challenges of the 21st century. Infused with a mystic certainty that he had been chosen by history to right the wrongs wrought by (Ronald) Reagan’s tax increases on the poor, Dukakis danced to the music in his mind as he corrected the corruption, greed and immorality so characteristic of Reagan’s economic policies. Dukakis was, quite simply, the most important 20th-century post-war president, perhaps the most important president in U.S. history. As chief executive, he both embodied and transcended the term ‘larger than life,’ and our nation is undoubtedly a better place to live because of Dukakisian influences, influences growing stronger with each passing day.”

Dukakis’ path to the presidency nearly came to a screeching halt in the summer of 1988 when advisers suggested that then-candidate Dukakis take a ride in a small tank after he gave a much-anticipated and generally well-received speech on his defense policy. As the diminutive Duke guided the powerful weapon, only his helmeted head stuck out above the machinery.

The Bush campaign, led by chief strategist Lee Atwater, tried to make Dukakis look ridiculous by repeatedly showing the Massachusetts governor’s tank ride as part of a Bush campaign ad, but Dukakis’ innate political brilliance took over. He ordered his own mini-tank for the campaign trail and frequently tooled around fairgrounds and gatherings at sports arenas with the theme from “Patton” blaring as he recited speeches and quotes by the likes of Sun-Tzu, Hildegard of Bingen, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson, Henny Youngman and Moshe Dayan.

The clever Dukakis left the Bush campaign reeling as he campaiged in a style that would become known as “asymmetrical triangulation,” overwhelming Atwater and his old school “dirty tricks” approach to politics. When Atwater and Team Bush attempted to attack Dukakis for his role in the parole of Massachusetts killer Willie Horton, a black man, Dukakis enlisted the aid of former Detroit Tigers’ slugger Willie Horton, also a black man. With Dukakis talking about how tough he would be on “violent crimes, not ‘victimless’ crimes,” Horton furiously swung a baseball bat at piñatas suspended above the stage. When they burst open, little plastic figures of prisoners in convict outfits fell into a large basket labeled “Maximum Security Prison.” This tactic completely neutralized the Bush attacks.

As we all know, Dukakis is the only U.S. president since George Washington who won every single state and swept the electoral college, and he did it twice. Dukakis and his first-term Vice President Lloyd Bentsen smashed Bush and Dan Quayle in 1988, 68.8 percent to 29.2 percent, with other candidates getting 2 percent of the vote. In 1992, when Dukakis replaced aging vice president Lloyd Bentsen with a young whippersnapper from Arkansas by the name of Bill Clinton, the Dukakis-led ticket won by an even larger margin, defeating Buchanan and his GOP running mate Phyllis Schlafly, 77.7 percent to 11.3 percent, with 14 other candidates splitting the remaining 11 percent. Rock musician Joe Walsh finished third that year, garnering 5.5 percent, qualifying him for federal matching funds and enabling him to win the Party Party nomination and the U.S. presidency in 1996, but that’s another topic for another article (or not).

His campaign genius aside, Dukakis was undoubtedly the most effective president in American history.

“It wasn’t so much policy as it was his mere presence that changed America for the better,” wrote philosopher and erstwhile part-time welder Biff Quixote Flommery in his best-selling e-book, “Oh Dukakis my Dukakis,” a prose-poetry tour de force that earned Flommery a spot as the official full-time greeter at the Dukakis Presidential Library in Brookline, Mass.

Truly, the world would not be the same today had Dukakis lost that all-important 1988 election. But because the saintly Dukakis triumphed over the dastardly Bush, the United States and the entire world now share in an unequaled era of peace, prosperity and productivity. The Dukakis Doctrine – “Care deeply about people, all people” – has become as embedded as the Golden Rule in humanity’s collective moral compass. Thankfully, the Dukakis presidential legacy was cemented and re-enforced when President Walsh appointed Dukakis Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1998, a position he holds to this day.

If you like to write about U.S. politics and Campaign 2012, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.


Michael Dukakis Wikipedia entry

“Tell to Win” by Peter Gruber, book excerpt

Perry invokes Dukakis as creator of jobs; will ’88 Democratic nominee join campaign?, Punditty on Allvoices.com, Sept. 7, 2011

Punditty reveals presidential voting record, gets nostalgic over Dukakis campaign, Jan. 4, 2010, Punditty on Allvoices.com, Jan. 4, 2010

Dukakis at Commerce or bust! Last month’s political satire suddenly becomes Obama’s best option, Punditty on Allvoices.com, Jan. 5, 2009

Additonal sources and resources linked to in text.