Jeff Pearlman

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Michael Dukakis

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Drive onto the UCLA campus, head over to the Luskin School of Public Affairs and you'll likely run into a bunch of students, some teachers—and (ho-hum) the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee. POSTED March 28, 2015

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The professor sits behind a desk, typing at a computer. He looks like any number of other professors you and I have had in our lives—worn shoes, a slightly wrinkled collared shirt, grayed hair going this way and that way. Here, on the UCLA campus, in an office on the sixth floor of the Luskin School of Public Affairs building, Michael Dukakis blends in like the brownish walls. Students pass, faculty pass, hi, bye, see ya later, let’s grab a bite to eat

It is a strange place to find the man who was almost president.

You’ve read that correctly. Michael Dukakis, visiting professor of public policy for the winter quarter, could have defeated George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election. He was the Democratic nominee; a wildly popular Massachusetts governor who enjoyed a 17-point lead in the polls following his party’s convention that July. Then, however, Dukakis made the greatest mistake of his life. Bush’s campaign manager, a cagey Texan named Lee Atwater, went after the Democrat hard—using any and all negative means. A rumor was leaked that Dukakis had been treated for mental depression. Disturbingly racist ads tied Dukakis to Willie Horton, an African-American convicted criminal who, during his furlough from a Massachusetts prison, raped and murdered a woman. On and on and on—one hit after another after another.

Dukakis, for his part, responded with the worst imaginable strategy: He refused to fire back (He also had this memorably unemotional moment in one of the debates, and did this, too). That November, George H. W. Bush became our nation’s 41st commander in chief, taking the popular vote, 53 percent to 46 percent, and the electoral vote, 426-111. Michael Dukakis gave his concession speech and returned to being governor.

And that was sorta that.

Only that wasn’t sorta that. Michael Dukakis is now 81, and he’s, well, awesome. Just awesome. Yeah, I’m a pretty liberal guy. But sitting down with Dukakis a few weeks ago served as a unique reminder that not all who enter national politics are crooks/tools/cons/thugs. As I texted to Kevin Broughton (Tea Party official and Quaz alum) earlier today, “You wouldn’t agree with anything Dukakis said politically, but you’d find him extremely decent and honorable.”

These days, when he’s not spending the winters in Southern California, Dukakis lives in Brookline, Mass. with his wife, Kitty. He helped with the campaigns of Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and is heavily involved in the movement to develop high-speed rail as a transportation alternative. He’s a fanatical Red Sox fan, makes a wicked clam chowdah and ranks Jim Rice and Tony Eason ahead of Kanye West.

Gov. Michael Dukakis—to hell with the presidency. You’re the 200th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: My last book was about the 1980s Lakers. And the coach before Pat Riley was Paul Westhead. And I interviewed Westhead in his office at the University of Oregon, where he coached the women’s basketball team. And in his career, after being fired by the Lakers, he coached everywhere. Denver, Loyola Marymount. Everywhere. And he had this amazing life. And I asked whether his life has been better not being the coach of the Lakers. Pat Riley did the same thing every year. Do you ever think, “I hated losing a presidential election, but maybe my life has been better, having not won”? Or is that ludicrous?

MICHAEL DUKAKIS: It’s not ludicrous. But the answer is no. My life is not better having lost. I’m happy Kitty and I … Christ, I’m 81, I feel 21. My wife is 78, and I keep introducing her as the best-looking Medicare recipient in America. And we’ve had a great life since. But there’s nothing like being the president of the United States, and having that kind of opportunity. And as I say to people, “I owe you all an apology. Hell, if I’d beaten Bush I you would have never had a Bush II. And now we have Bush III? My God. So blame me for all of that.”

J.P.: Do you really feel that way at all?

M.D.: No, I’m kidding.

J.P.: It’s so interesting. Because I told a friend I was coming here, and he had just read a book on Gary Hart. And Gary Hart had lamented not winning the 1988 election, because there would be no Bushes in the White House. Do you ever think of the dominoes of history?

M.D.: Well, that’s not the way history works. You can be responsible for significant change, but the world’s the world. There are forces out there nobody controls. It’s a problem we’ve had since World War II—that we think we can control things we can’t. We keep intervening and we get our heads handed to us. One of these days we’ll wake up to the fact that either you do broad international consensus, or it won’t work. But the ability to make a difference, which is what politics is really all about if you take it seriously, is real. I saw that as governor. I don’t want to overdo it, but I think we would have had universal health insurance had I been elected in the 1980s. Of course we should have had it in the 1970s when Nixon proposed it. And then, if Ted Kennedy were here today, he would admit the worst political mistake he ever made was not joining Nixon right away on Nixon’s plan, which was actually a pretty good plan. When they finally decided to get together it was 1973, and then Watergate hit and it kind of blew up Nixon and blew up Nixon’s health plan.

To go back to your original question, you don’t run for the presidency for the hell of it. You run because you really want to do things and you think you can do things. So I don’t think my life has been better since. On the other hand we’ve been fortunate to be able to live a good, fulfilling life. Despite the loss.

J.P.: I’ve always wanted to ask someone this, and you’re the perfect person. You always hear people in elections say, “The American voters are savvy” and “Never underestimate the American voter.” I live in Orange County, and you would think there’s no drought going on. Just as an example, you see people watering their boats, five sprinklers for a lawn the size of a postage stamp. People don’t believe in climate change. They literally don’t believe it exists. I kind of feel the American public makes me feel smarter than I probably am. So is that just nonsense, when politicians speak of the sophistication of the American voter?

M.D.: Well, is the American voter sophisticated? First, I’m not quite sure what sophisticated means …

J.P.: But it’s a line used a lot …

M.D.: Who was the guy? Bill Bennett. Remember Bill Bennett? Williams, Harvard Law School. All of that stuff. Not an unintelligent guy. But where was he coming from? Paul Wolfowitz. Who’s the really crazy guy who was Bush’s U.N. representative? Still yapping …

J.P.: John Bolton.

M.D.: Yes, John Bolton. Highly educated. I don’t think he was a poor kid. I don’t know what his background is. But I think these guys are nuts. Now, are they sophisticated? Intellectually, I doubt it. But that’s the … the guy who came to fix my plumbing the other day. He was born in Mexico, he has a small business, he works his head off. He does reasonably well. He was expressing his unhappiness about something politically. So I said, “Lorenzo, who do you like?” And this guy is not a Democrat, and he’s kind of an independent guy, runs his own business, works his head off. And he said, “I like that [Elizabeth] Warren woman from your state. I like her.” I asked why. He said, “Because she’s kind of taking on these big boys who don’t care about us.” Well, that’s a pretty wise, thoughtful comment. Does he have a college degree? No. The guy’s a plumber. So who’s sophisticated and who isn’t? Who’s smart and who isn’t?

Look, over the course of a long career in this business I’ve come to have a lot of respect for a lot of folks. All of them? No. And a lot of this has to do with folks who are deeply and actively involved in the process do. Why did Elizabeth Warren beat Scott Brown? Let me tell you, that was a tight race. Four of five days before the election, both Boston newspapers of record published polls. One said Brown was a little bit ahead, the other said it was tied. She won by eight points because she had a field operation—and I’ll take a little bit of credit for that—that was as good as anything I’d ever seen. It was the best grassroots organization I’d ever seen. And without that she wouldn’t have won. Was that a reflection of the sophisticated electorate? Well, you’d like to think Massachusetts has a lot of people who are interested and informed. And probably to a higher degree than many states. But they’re not all PhDs. Over time I’ve come to have a lot of respect for the folks who are just coming out to vote because they want a better world and the challenge if you’re running is to connect and see if you can persuade them to believe you’re the one who makes sense.

J.P.: OK, but last week I was watching a YouTube clip about you, and the helmet you wore during the election. And I’m watching it, and everyone is speaking with sincerity how this helmet was a horrible mistake. And I kept thinking how this is the dumbest thing ever. If this is the type of thing that sways people to vote for one person over another person, we must be the dumbest people of all time.

M.D.: But, see, I didn’t lose because of that. I lost for two reasons. First, I made a decision—it was my decision, and nobody else’s—that I was not going to respond to the Bush attack campaign. In retrospect, it was one of the dumbest decisions I’ve ever made.

J.P.: Why did you decide to do that?

M.D.: Because I’m a positive guy and I thought people were tired of the polarization we had under Reagan. And we had a lot of polarization under Reagan. I mean, this notion that somehow the Reagan era was this era of consensus is nonsense. This was a very sharply divided country over his policies. And Clinton essentially reversed them in six months. People talk about the Reagan Revolution. The Reagan Revolution died six months after Clinton took over.

So not being ready for the kind of attack campaign that came at me and having a carefully thought-out strategy for how to deal with it was a big mistake. I’d been through negative campaigns for governor. Lost one, beat the same guy the second time around.

J.P.: Ed King?

M.D.: Yes. And the second mistake I made was spending too much time talking to people who I thought knew more about winning the presidency than I did. All of who poo-pooed the kind of grassroots organizational stuff that had gotten me elected. Repeatedly. And that means a precinct captain and a six-block cap, and every precinct making personal contact with every single voting household. That’s what we’re talking about here. And it took Barack Obama to finally demonstrate that beyond any doubt a precinct-based grassroots campaign is just as effective when you’re running for the presidency as it is when you’re running for dogcatcher. Had I dealt with the attack campaign much more effectively—and there were ways to do that—and had we had the kind of grassroots effort … there are 200,000 precincts in a national campaign. That’s 200,000 precinct captains. That should not be that difficult. But it took Obama, not once but twice, to prove it works. So those are the two reasons.

I mean, there are always gonna be things. Look, Bush was in the tank three times. And people are gonna … they went after me on the Pledge of Allegiance, and then he couldn’t even repeat the Pledge of Allegiance at some event. Yeah, we could have run a spot on that. But it didn’t seem to me that made sense at the time.

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J.P.: So sometimes you start researching someone and you wind up way down the hole. I saw somewhere that Lee Atwater, Bush’s notoriously dirty campaign manager, wound up apologizing to you …

M.D.: Not to me directly. But to my campaign.

J.P.: And then he died. I wonder, when you hear that … because that was the most sinister, ruthless, racist, nasty, vile … and you tried rising above it.

M.D.: Not rising above it. You have to deal with it. Politics is a contact sport.

J.P.: This guy apologized. Are you like, “To hell with you …”

M.D.: The apology—so what? Here’s the contrast. King beats me. I’m 40 points ahead of him with five weeks to go in the Democratic Primary. Not a pleasant experience. So for a variety of reasons I decided to run against him. He had a lot of money. And beginning in February he started running attack ads against me, accusing me of signing the biggest tax increase in the history of Massachusetts. Which is true. So what do you do about that? He starts putting out bumper stickers with my colors that say DUTAXUS. Get it? He taxed you once, he’ll tax you again. So how do you deal with it? I did not ignore it. Fortunately for me he’d run a pretty sleazy administration. And I’m not even sure who came up with this idea, but we said, “OK, this guy didn’t raise your taxes. But you’re paying a huge corruption tax as a result of King.” In other words, we took his attack campaign and flipped it on him. And I beat him decisively. And I don’t think there’s any question that they made a difference.

Now I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what I should have done differently with Bush. But the fact of the matter is, with this Willie Horton stuff, the most liberal furlough program in America was the Reagan-Bush furlough program  in the federal prison system. I mean, they were furloughing people for 45 days. One of their furloghees went out and murdered a young pregnant mother. There was some guy who stole a helicopter while on a furlough program. And Reagan himself had had a furlough program here in California, and two of his furloughees had gone out and murdered people. I never said that. I don’t think Bush knew they had a furlough program. But, hey, if you make the decision I made not to respond, which is retrospect was a pretty dumb decision, you don’t have to win by 20 points in this business, all you have to do is convince one more than 50. And it was just, in retrospect, a dumb thing to do.

J.P.: Do you build up hate for an opponent the way supporters build up hate for an opponent?

M.D.: No.

J.P.: You just don’t?

M.D.: No.

J.P.: Why is that?

M.D.: When you’re in this business for 25 years you don’t have time to hate people. You wanna go out there and win because you think you can make a real contribution. But hate? No.

J.P.: If George H. W. Bush is visiting UCLA today, do you go see him?

M.D.: I might. I might. But I haven’t got time for hate. And you’re trying to do it in a way that’s forceful. But you want to be a grownup about this stuff. There’s also a lot of humor in this thing. Every time Saturday Night Live has an anniversary they run the debate. They ask me what I think about it. You don’t watch a lot of television when you’re campaigning. It’s 16 hours per day, so you’re not interested in turning on the television set. But I remember watching that and saying, “Yeah. How am I losing to this guy?” It was kind of funny.

I mean, you’re competitive obviously, and you want to win. But you don’t get personal.

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J.P.: Do you form a bond with a running mate during an election, or is it just a marriage of political convenience?

M.D.: Well, you certainly try to. And I had a great running mate. Lloyd Bentsen was terrific. One of the other things I would have done is to spend more time with Lloyd. We were both out there campaigning night and day. We and our staffs should have gotten together on a regular basis. After all, this is a guy who beat George Bush decisively for the senate. He knew him. And beat him. But a great running mate and a good guy.

J.P.: When I was a senior in high school I had a history teacher named George Maloney. And he told us a story, and I really want to ask you this. He said that this is fact; that a couple of nights before the vice presidential debate a janitor overheard Dan Quayle rehearsing and comparing himself to John Kennedy, and he let the Democrats know. Total fiction, right?

M.D.: I have no idea. Certainly Lloyd was ready for it. There was no question about it. Now how did he know it was a likely statement? Or did he simply respond that way? Because it was kind of devastating. He was just a very good guy. And I picked him because A. I had a lot of respect for him; B. He was highly thought of in the senate; C. I was not a Washington guy and I wanted a running mate who was a seasoned, experienced person in Washington. He filled all three. His wife Beryl is wonderful, and I’m in touch periodically. She was tremendous. So, yeah, you try and develop something. I mean, John Kerry and I—Kerry was a damn good lieutenant governor, and when Paul Tsongas had to leave the senate because of his illness, John came to me and said, “Look, if you want to run you’re first in line.” I told him, “I didn’t work my head off to get here and go to the senate. I’m staying here as governor. I have a lot to do.” So he ran, and I’d like to think the work we did in our two years together helped him get elected. And now he’s the secretary of state. Which is great.

J.P.: After you lose a big election, is it hard to bounce back into life and say, “OK, let’s do this!”?

M.D.: Of course it is.

J.P.: Were you watching TV and eating ice cream?

M.D.: No, I wasn’t doing that because after the presidential thing I had to go back to the governor’s office. Because we were sinking back into another national recession. But winning is better than losing. Now was I a better governor the second time around because of the defeat? No question.

J.P.: Wait. Why?

M.D.: Look, when I went into the legislature in 1962, Massachusetts was one of the three or four most corrupt states in the country. Here we were, we’d just elected this terrific young president in 1960. And we are who we are. So a bunch of us younger Democrats got elected in 1962, and then again in 1964. And we were determined to clean this thing up. And I kind of became the leader of the young Turks. It used to give my father heartburn. He was this Greek man born in Western Turkey, who comes to the United States and reads in the paper that his son is the leader of the young Turks. I had to explain that it was just a figure of speech. So I was a reformer; I was a rebel of sorts, even within the legislature. And pretty effective as a legislature. But the party establishment—I was the last guy they wanted to see in the governor’s office.

J.P.: Why was that?

M.D.: Because I was a guy who did things differently. Not necessarily better, but I did them differently. And I was not a consensus builder. And what you discover if you’re a chief executive … Obama tried it, and it didn’t work. If you wanna get things done, trying to develop consensus around the solutions to the problems you think your state or your country is facing is always the better way. Getting defeated and spending some time thinking about that, and then coming back and doing it differently and much better made all the difference. I had a very successful run. Ran into another national recession in the late 1990s, and that wasn’t fun. But generally speaking, I think people will say I was a good governor and the state performed brilliantly in the late 1980s.

J.P.: When we started you mentioned you’re 81 and feel 21. Aging fascinates me. When you’re 15, you almost think aging will never happen. Even when you’re 30. How do you feel about being 81? Do you worry about death? Do you think about it?

M.D.: Well, occasionally. You keep reading the obituaries and it’s a lot of people in their late 70s, early 80s. This is an age when people tend to start having problems—this, that and the other thing. So far, knock on wood, I’m a very healthy guy. People ask me what medication I take. And I say, “A multivitamin and a baby Aspirin.”

J.P.: That’s true?

M.D.: Yes. I’ve been taking them for years. Because my doctor suggested it 25 years ago. But, look, I often say that if you want to live a long life, pick your parents carefully. My mother lived until she was five months short of 100. And Kitty’s dad was conducting the Boston Pops until he was 94. So knock on wood, we’re in pretty good shape, at least genetically.

J.P.: I have this horrible habit where sometimes I wake up and think, “Oh my God, I’m going to be dead one day.” You?

M.D.: No. Never. It’s never been a thing. I love what I’m doing, I love teaching and working with these kids. And I’m still deeply and actively involved. People say, “It must be better now that you’re out of politics and the pressure is off.” I say to them, “You don’t understand us guys. We love pressure.” I’m as deeply involved in stuff today as I was 20 years ago.

J.P.: Would you run for office again?

M.D.: No, no. I think at some point you have to put that to one side. I like teaching, I like working with young people, trying to open up doors to public service for them. But I’m also very much involved in a lot of stuff.

J.P.: You wrote a book with the late Paul Simon, How to Get in Politics and Why. And when I was a kid I wanted to be president. I really wanted to be president. But it seems today high public office is so much about fundraising, about corporate influence. I can’t understand why anyone would want that. It just seems like such a nightmare. No?

M.D.: But you don’t have to do it that way. Obama refused to take PAC money and wouldn’t let lobbyists raise money for him [Jeff’s note: This was true for a while. Then, sadly, Obama wound up taking the dough]. So how come he raised $750 million in 2008? Must have been more in 2012. Well, part of it is the technology of the Internet, which gives you the opportunity to connect with lots and lots of people out there. Obama had five million individual contributors in 2008. Average contribution was $110. And 2012 must have been even more than that. No funny money, none of this going to Reno and paying obese fundraisers. I never did that. I wouldn’t. My campaigns, we didn’t have the Internet in those days. But it was try and raise money from a broad base of relatively moderate contributors. I did the same thing Obama did—no PACs, no lobbyists. And up until 1988 I was pretty successful. And I never had a money problem in 1988.

J.P.: So you would still encourage people to go into politics?

M.D.: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yes. But what do you have to do? You not only want to raise your money from a broad base of relatively moderate contributors. You want to turn those folks in precinct workers. That’s the challenge, and that’s what Obama did. He not only raised a lot of money from a very broad base, but the whole point wasn’t just to raise money from them. It was to raise money from them, and then turn them into active, precinct-based organizers. And he was successful in doing that. That’s the challenge. That’s what Elizabeth Warren did. She raised a ton of money. A ton of money. But that didn’t get her elected. What got her elected was a grassroots organization.

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J.P.: Do you think Elizabeth Warren is too liberal to be elected president?

M.D.: I mean, what’s liberal when it comes to standing up to people?

J.P.: You know she’ll be targeted and labeled …

M.D.: I don’t know what the hell they’ll label her for. She’s somebody who thinks a lot of Americans got screwed because some people in the financial world were behaving in terrible ways. Now, a lot of that had to do with a Republican administration that didn’t believe in regulating financial institutions. If there’s one thing you learn in this business it’s that you have to regulate the hell out of financial institutions. I don’t care whether you’re right, left or center. Weren’t all of these conservatives mad at the bailout? Why are we bailing out Wall Street? These guys were making millions, playing around, doing all this derivative stuff?

Is that right, left, center? Is it liberal? Conservative? It sounds very conservative to me, the idea that you want to make sure these folks are regulated carefully. And regulated well. My state has 145 state-regulated banks. Not a one of them gets into trouble. Not a one. Why? I mean subprime mortgages? Are you kidding me? They wouldn’t be permitted. What’s a subprime mortgage? A subprime mortgage is a mortgage that never should be written. I mean, today there was a story about one of the big banks deciding it will no longer finance subprime auto loans. No surprise to me. But what is this? Left? Right? She’s too liberal? I don’t know. I think she makes sense. I think she understands that we don’t want another collapse; that we don’t want to go through what we experienced in 2007 and 2008. But those guys are back doing the exact same thing they were doing before, doing everything they can to weaken Dodd-Frank. Which was not the toughest law in the world, but it was important. And they’re doing everything they can to weaken it. It’s the same old stuff. I mean, and you just have to … this is liberal? Sounds to me quite conservative.

Interesting. In Clinton’s last year, Jeff, we had a budgetary surplus of a quarter of a trillion dollars. It was the first time we had had back-to-back budgetary surpluses in 50 years. And it happened under a Democratic president. Isn’t that amazing? Now the Republicans are saying, “Hey, we want a tax cut. We want a tax cut.” By the way, we had 4-percent unemployment. We had full employment. And they wanted a tax cut. Clinton, one of the smartest guys I’ve met in this business, basically said, “Looking down the road, a tax cut mostly for the wealthy doesn’t make a lot of sense for me. We have to somehow see if we can act responsibly fiscally and make sure we’re using that surplus in ways that will guarantee a very strong, stable financial future.” What does he do? He comes up with a plan—nobody remembers this—that will eliminate the national debt in 10-to-12 years. Eliminate it. At that time it was $12 trillion. Now it’s $17 trillion. And take the interest saved from paying down the debt and put it in the famous lock box. So as to provide for financing in social security when in 2027 or 2030 when the social security trust fund starts slipping into the deficit position.

And when the pollsters went out and asked people whether they’d rather have a tax cut or what the president was proposing, by 2:1 the American people said forget the tax cut, let’s do what the president is proposing. It sounds pretty wise and sensible to me. Don’t you think? And if Gore had been elected—and he was, the damn thing got stolen—that’s what we would have had. With almost zero debt. In fact, Alan Greenspan was very concerned, because if there’s no debt how can the federal reserve function? What Clinton was proposing was a very, very conservative and wise plan to use this surplus in ways that would be economy-building and responsible and so on. Well, he was succeeded by a guy who was the most fiscally irresponsible president in American history and called himself a conservative. That’s conservative? Invading Iraq is conservative? Intervening all over the world militarily is conservative? Doesn’t sound like that to me.

 

J.P.: I find it strange how Obama is getting killed about ISIS, and ISIS probably isn’t a threat if we never go into Iraq after 9.11 …

M.D.: Look, ISIS is 20,000 people. Please. I mean, it’s not that I’m not horrified by what they’re doing. But if there’s one thing we know it’s that governments, no matter where they’re coming from, don’t like terrorists. It doesn’t matter who they are. Putin doesn’t like terrorists. We don’t like terrorists. The Chinese don’t like terrorists. So we ought to be working right now to come up with an international plan for defeating these folks. And we will. We will.

We’re talking about 20,000 people. And you’re absolutely right. Had we not gone into Iraq, and the Syrian thing was also nuts. I remember when it first started, and even Obama was saying Assad has to go. And if there was ever a candidate for non-intervention, it’s Syria. If you know anything about the history of Syria, and the people of Syria, and the communities in Syria … including, by the way, the oldest Christian community in the world, which will be annihilated if these guys take over … intervening. No. Libya. Now, Gaddafi was no bargain. But Gaddafi gave up his nuclear stuff. Well, OK, so we went in there, he was assassinated, and what do we have now? Chaos.

J.P.: Is that on Obama?

M.D.: Well, it’s certainly partly Obama. The French, the British—a lot of people are in there. And poor old Putin is saying, “I don’t know … look out.” Well, OK, we’ll go along with a no-fly zone, which we violated almost immediately after the UN voted on a no-fly zone. And Putin was the guy who pulled the chestnuts out of the fire with Syria with the chemical warfare stuff. And here we are. Lybia is chaos. Syria—three million refugees and 200,000-plus people dead as a result of this. So my view of the world is either we act internationally and build broad international consensus around what we’re doing, or we’re going to have continued problems.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHAEL DUKAKIS:

• What’s your greatest moment as an athlete at Brookline High School?: When my cross country team won the Metropolitan League Championship. I wasn’t the No. 1 runner. I was No. 3. We won that thing. Or maybe running and finishing the Boston Marathon at the age of 17 in 1951. That wasn’t a high school thing. I ran it in 3:30. I wore low Keds sneakers. Because there were no shoes to run that distance. I ran 26 miles in low Keds sneakers. The following day, I was the captain of the high school tennis team, and we had a match. And my tennis coach, who had been a world class hurdler at Dartmouth in the 1930s. His name was Monte Wells. He had pleaded with me about doing the marathon. I get out of bed. My mother’s preparing breakfast for me downstairs. I can’t walk down the stairs. Honest to God, I sat on my rump and bounced down the stairs. Ate breakfast, went to our tennis match, we beat Malden Catholic, not a tennis power, by a score of 8-1. Who do you think the one was? I couldn’t move laterally at all. All I could do was hit the ball and come to the net. If the guy hit the ball to my left or right, I couldn’t reach it. Took me about a week to get over it.

• I wrote a book about the 1986 Mets. Want a copy?: Oh, God. Jesus. I was debating my opponent for governor the night of Game 6. And I kept announcing what was happening. People would hand me a piece of paper with the score. I was at a televised debate. There were about 40,000 watching our debate on television, and about 2.6 million watching the game. And then we get home and flip it on and go through that horrible inning. Why McNamara didn’t take Buckner out? Dave Stapleton was the best defensive first baseman in baseball. I think it was one of those things where sentiment outweighs reality. Jesus. Poor Buckner. Could hardly walk, for God’s sake.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Walter Mondale, Newport Beach, Tony Eason, eBay, clam chowder, Johannesburg, Jim Rice, Kanye West, eight hours of sound sleep, Nightmare on Elm Street: I can’t rank them 1-10. I’m high on Mondale, Rice, clam chowder (I make my own, and it’s damn good). I’m so-so on Eason. I’ve only been to Newport Beach twice. I’ve never been to Johannesburg. I never use eBay. I’m a five-hour sleeper. I don’t know enough about West or Elm Street to have an opinion.

• Two memories of your first-ever date: My first date? God. I’d gone to one or two dances. But my high school girlfriend—the first date with the girl who became my girlfriend, and ultimately introduced Kitty and me. Her name was Sandy Cohen. She’s a very good friend. It was a disaster. I was tongue tied. I subsequently got over it, but that first date was a disaster.

• Who are your five all-time favorite Republicans?: Abraham Lincoln—not just because of the Civil War. I’m a train fanatic, and Lincoln was the guy, in the middle of the Civil War, who pushed the transcontinental railroad. He’s the president responsible for the transcontinental railroad, which transformed the country; Teddy Roosevelt—Who, by the way, was the first serious presidential candidate to propose universal health insurance, in 1912; George Norris—George was a Republican senator from Nebraska who was the father of the TVA. And he was a close ally of Roosevelt’s during the Great Depression. A remarkable guy; Dan Evans—He was the governor of the state of Washington when I was first elected. A wonderful guy. Just a great guy. Who really reached out to guys like me and shared experiences and thoughts. Just a lovely man; Tom Kean—He’s a remarkable guy. From New Jersey. And a good person, and a gutsy person.

• In 1988, did you consider Jesse Jackson a legitimate contender for the nomination?: I didn’t think he’d win the nomination, but Jesse is an interesting guy. He can drive you nuts, but I never listened to him without learning something. Both in the way he expressed himself, as well as the things he talked about.

• John Williams wrote a song, Fanfare for Michael Dukakis. How many times have you listened to that in your lifetime?: Well, I listened to it a good number of times in 1988. Since then, not much. Wonderful guy, by the way. He’s a lovely man. It’s a good song. Everything he writes is good.

• Should the Red Sox retire Roger Clemens’ number?: No. Because I think there are grave doubts about this guy and what he was doing. I don’t think you want to do that. And he left us. Not only that, but he had said before that the only way he would leave us is if it was a Texas team. Then he could go back home. And as he’s going to Toronto someone said, “He must have turned the map upside down.” I love that.

• Do you remember your first Red Sox game?: I was young, and at that time we lived on Boylston Street. About a 10-minute bus ride from Fenway. So we go down. Lefty Grove is pitching, Rick Ferrell is catching, Jimmie Foxx on first, Bobby Doerr, who had just come up, at second, Joe Cronin—the player-manager—shortstop. Jim Tabor third. So we come home very excited. “Mom! Mom! Can we go again?” And she says, “Boys, if you wanna go you can go again. But I won’t be going with you. I’ve never been so bored in my life.” She had no idea what was going on out there.

• I’m coaching my 8-year-old son’s little league team. How should I come up with lineups?: Well, first thing you have to do is make him a catcher. It’s the best position on the team, and he’ll always be in demand. I was catching for the seventh grade team when I was in the fourth grade because nobody could catch a swinging strike except for me. Because I was 9. I used to catch my brother, Stelian. But there’s nothing like being a catcher. You have the whole field in front of you, and you’re kind of in charge.

• Best advice you ever received: I had a great high school basketball coach named Johnny Grinnell. He had been a great basketball player at Tufts in the 1930s. He couldn’t stand Joe McCarthy during the McCarthy period. And because I lived in the south side of town and a buddy of mine named Bob Wool moved to Newton, and Grinnell lived in Newton, at the end of practice we’d jump in the car with him and he’d take Wool to Newton and leave me off at the intersection of Route 9 and Hammond Street and I’d hitchhike home. I was 17 at the time, and we were talking about McCarthy. He said, “You know, Mike, you ought to seriously think about running for public office.”

  • Arnold Woods

    Great interview. He seems like a really decent guy, a quality that is all too lacking in politicians. I really wish that Elizabeth Warren would run in the next election.

    I hate to be the spelling police, but “Libya.”

  • http://www.trentonian.com/ Joey Kulkin

    This is very good, Jeff.

  • Marty

    Thanks for this QUAZ.
    I was a student intern at the Massachusetts State House a couple summers back in 2010. You got to see some stuff go down and how current events changed things (Arizona immigration somehow became THE biggest issue in MA and you just thought, “Fuck, really?” while it disrupted things like having casinos built here. And, naturally, the only constituent(s) who spoke up and you had to respond to were bozos with some crazy far right wing radio show slamming transexuals, gays, and anything else under the sun. It was always ONE. Other than that, being an intern was painfully mundane and office work in a happening and historical place compared to other places I worked/interned at)

    But you got to hear state politicians, past/present, speak with 50-100+ interns all summer. Dukakis was one of them and a standout speaker to look forward to since the guy was nearly President. No interns were alive when he ran for President or had any opinion of him. Most politicians came in wearing a suit/tie or dress; so this dude came in wearing a Hawaiian shirt: it was fantastic. Just incredibly decent/genuine dude, but totally and absolutely oblivious, in an endearing old man-ish way. I didn’t really want to meet with him since I suck at small talk, but the office I was was in was in charge of putting together the events, so I had to stick around. What sticks out is Dukakis speaking close enough that it seems like he was going to kiss me (and him being unaware the whole time that he was doing so to every person who came up afterwards) and me trying to weasel my way out of the conversation. Also, his short stature, and the bushy eyebrows that were close enough to nibble on. And that you felt like, after he left, he would somehow be searching for his car in the parking lot for an hour and that somebody should check on him.

    But you came away REALLY liking the dude, however ridiculously unassuming he seems as far as ANY politician I can imagine goes (and, generally, left/right, all were nice: that’s the job is being nice). He was, by far, the most courteous with his time afterwards and genuinely curious. You walked away feeling like some nobody, your friendly next door neighbor, nearly won the Presidency. And also was rightfully bitter about it and Bush when you learned about the nasty ads (and that Bush II did damage). And real thorough (as the interview showed here). And definitely comes across as more of a professor type who just happened to go into politics.

    …unrelated: My favorite speaker moment was Deval Patrick because he was running to be re-elected for Governor. So the room is packed with EVERYBODY, 200+ interns or so, and he’s effectively giving a prepared campaign speech of sorts while his people stand in the back (no other office really had ‘people’ or a staff). So I’m sitting in the front row less than 3 feet away from me. Deval is, like Dukakis, another really short dude. Halfway through the speech, I’m getting tired of craning my neck for when he is speaking, so my eyes fix towards Deval’s mid-section, particularly his bulge. The Governor is packing heat. He notices and my eyes sense he’s looking at me, so I look up; he gives me a weird, startled, and amused eyebrow look in the middle of his speech and shuffled over to his left away from me. I had to stop myself from laughing for being caught and what just happened. After the speech and he darted out, I turned to my fellow intern (a female), relayed my problems with him standing so close and my neck and then said, “Was it just me, or did you end up staring at his bulge?” Her eyes went wide, without sarcasm, saying, “Oh, my God! Yes!” So my memories of Deval are of his bulge and being caught looking.
    Beats the fat kid who fell asleep and snored during Martha Coakley’s session. Or the Republican kid who was an intern for the Rep. from my town (now Liuetenant Governor: in MA, there’s like 13 Republican politicians and she was one) who was a combative idiot and badgered Coakley with repeated follow-up questions on how she messed her campaign for Senator up so badly (she had JUST lost and it was clear it was a sore subject she wanted to stay away from). That kid picked his nose and chewed his nails between questions during every Speaker session. I felt so embarrassed but he was oblivious. Again, there’s always ONE idiot intern.

    Related to all of this: I was a horrible intern.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life