Michael S. Dukakis

| February 3, 2018 | 0 Comments


George Mitrovich

Michael Dukakis spoke at The City Club of San Diego.

On Saturday, January 13, Michael S. Dukakis, who served 12-years as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and was the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States in 1988, delivered his *17th Annual State of the Nation Address to The City Club of San Diego.

The event, held in the Fermanian Business Center on campus at Point Loma Nazarene University, attracted some of San Diego’s leading citizens, including Joan and Irwin Jacobs.

And exactly why would a former governor of Massachusetts speak for 17 consecutive years to a San Diego organization?

Here’s the rest of the story (with apologies to Paul Harvey):

In 1996 I was at the Democratic National Convention at the United Center in Chicago. I was there, not as a Delegate, as I was for Ted Kennedy in 1980, but as a guest, with a special all-access pass.

Wandering around the upper tier of the United Center, I noticed George McGovern sitting with Mike Dukakis, two former nominees of their party for president.

McGovern, I knew well, as I had been the lead press secretary for the anti-Vietnam War senators in 1970, while serving in that role for Senator Charles Goodell of New York, the leading Republican opponent of the war (an opposition that cost him his seat, because it drew the wrath of President Richard Nixon; who would subsequently become the disgraced former President Richard Nixon).

I did not know Dukakis, but I wanted to say hello to McGovern, so I walked down to where the two former leaders of their party were sitting, greeted McGovern, and was, in turn, introduced to Dukakis.

The three of us chatted for a while, before I asked, “Are you speaking to the Convention?”

McGovern and Dukakis shook their heads. No, they hadn’t been invited.

I was shocked. How was it possible that two men who had lead their party in presidential elections (‘72 and ’88), would not be invited to speak at the ’96 convention?

By what logic had President Bill Clinton’s political operatives decided it would be a mistake to give prime time to two former presidential nominees of the Democratic Party?

It wasn’t hard to figure out.

George McGovern and Michael Dukakis were losers.

This denial to two great public servants, angered me deeply, and became a source of discontent with all things Clinton (a discontent still felt 22-years later, and reinforced by Mrs. Clinton’s bungled ’16 campaign).

As the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles approached, I called both McGovern and Dukakis to ask if the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had had a change of heart?

The answer, again, was no.

My righteous anger renewed, I decided to write an op-ed about this stunning lack of gratitude by the Democratic Party; an op-ed I submitted to The New York Times, which, for the first and only time, decided they would run my byline.

When your work appears on The Times’ op-ed page, people will notice. You will hear from men and women you do not know, who live in places you have never been. Fortunately, my op-ed was well received (except, I should think, at the DNC).

Which led me to write:

To have been a candidate for president of the United States is a very great honor. But winners are lionized, losers forgotten. Unless, they come back winners, like John Adams, William Henry Harrison, James Monroe, Grover Cleveland and Richard Nixon. But if you lose without a reprieve, you are essentially erased from history.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the treatment accorded to McGovern and Dukakis (as was true of Walter Mondale following his loss to Ronald Reagan in ‘84).

Indeed, at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, in the city of his birth, in the state of his greatest political achievements, Dukakis was absent from any visible television role, save for a few minor speeches here and there.

This shameful treatment by the Democratic Party of its presidential standard-bearers who end up losing, is the very contradiction of what the party chooses to believe about itself – proud of its past, committed to changing the present, and ever mindful of its obligations to future generations.

All of which brings me back to Dukakis at The City Club and the very great regard I have for this extraordinary public servant.

Knowing he teaches during the winter quarter at UCLA, as he has for 23-years (the other three quarters he’s at Northeastern University in Boston), I first invited him to speak 17-years ago on the future of train travel in the U.S., as he then served on the board of Amtrak, and is one of the country’s greatest rail advocates.

The event was held at then Padres President Larry Lucchino’s La Jolla home, on his lawn overlooking the Pacific (what Dukakis calls Larry Lucchino’s “modest cottage by the sea”).

It was a terrific event, and Dukakis on that occasion, as on all other 16 occasions, spoke without notes, despite such weighty subjects as health care, and, this year, Donald Trump and the Republican tax bill (although, it should be noted, in the body of his speech Dukakis never once mentioned Trump).

The fact that he’s spoken 17 times to The City Club of San Diego, when there is no political gain to achieve, in a state where he has never held political office, in a city where he has no interest (save our friendship), speaks to the man’s commitment to the commonweal; a profound and never-ending commitment to public service – ceaseless and untiring even at age 84.

One of the ironies of the Governor’s life is his reputation as this great Massachusetts’ “liberal.” And yet, in his personal life, he’s the opposite of his image.

He’s by nature, frugal (his wife, the great Kitty, says he’s the “cheapest man” in America). When he was Governor he rode the “T” to the Capitol on Beacon Hill in Boston every day, and at day’s end, rode it back home to Brookline. On Sundays, at home with their children, politics was not discussed. To the degree they could achieve a normal family life, not easy when you are the Governor of the Commonwealth, but he and Kitty did their best.

In my life it has been my good luck to know many of the major political figures of our time. But not one has been more inherently humble or decent than Michael S. Dukakis.

I’m lucky to have him as a friend, but America is lucky to have him — Citizen Michael S. Dukakis.

*To view the Governor’s speech, please go to: https://youtu.be/shvls8GO3CA.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at, gmitrio35@gmail.com.

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