Dukakis Departed

January 06, 1991

Michael Dukakis, having lost his chance for the presidency, now has to hope history will at least look kindly on his governorship of Massachusetts. For his contemporaries do not. As he left the gold-domed State House hard by Boston Common this past week, having sat in the big leather chair under Sam Adams' portrait for 12 of the last 16 years, his public approval rating was a dismal 20 percent. There is a good chance he couldn't be elected Brookline's dog-catcher.

Such is the cruelty of politics. The joy of the 1988 Atlanta convention, when he offered himself as "a product of the American dream," seems, in retrospect, a mockery. He is now regarded as the fellow who threw away a 17 point lead, the aloof technocrat who considered it unnecessary (or beneath him) to hit back at George Bush's cynical appeals to racism and jingoism.

In his home state, however, Mr. Dukakis' undoing has been the collapse of his "Massachusetts Miracle" -- of an era of strong economic growth. When he was running for the White House, his theme was what he could do as governor he could do as president. "In nine years, I've balanced nine more budgets that this [Reagan] administration has and I've just balanced a tenth," he said in his Atlanta acceptance speech. "I've worked. . . hard to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs -- and I mean good jobs, jobs you can. . . count on."

In the 26 months since his defeat, Massachusetts citizens have gone through as punishing a recession as any in the country. Those good, count-on jobs have disappeared and the Massachusetts deficit has not only been numbing but has made his last "balanced budgets" suspect.

Integrity was his mantra when he took office, and he made it stick in a state famous for political corruption. The economic infrastructure he built will probably make his state stronger, not weaker, when the business cycle turns upward. His instinct for multilateralism in foreign affairs, though mocked by Mr. Bush during the campaign, is precisely the course the president is following in the Gulf crisis. Mike Dukakis' reputation will probably mellow and then improve with the passage of time. But he has lost his date with destiny.

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